PARIS (AP) — The "U.N. hierarchy" rejected French efforts to hear from the author of U.N. report alleging that French soldiers sexually abused six children in the Central African Republic, the Paris prosecutor's office said Thursday.
The revelation accompanied word that French authorities had opened a formal judicial inquiry into the case that the Paris prosecutors' office knew about in July, but was made public only last week following a report in a British newspaper, the Guardian.
Independent judges will now take over the case from the prosecutor's office, an acknowledgment of the seriousness and complexity of the accusations that have sparked international dismay and led to the suspension of a U.N. official who leaked the U.N. claims.
In its defense, the prosecutor's office said U.N. officials twice rejected French efforts to hear from the report's author despite her own willingness to do so in Paris.
"The U.N. hierarchy refused this questioning, however, indicating that the functionary benefited from immunity that had to be lifted before any questioning," the prosecutor's office said in a statement. The report's author was not identified.
The statement also cited a total of more than six months of delays in French investigators' efforts to get answers from her — which finally resulted in written responses received on April 29 and in turn led to the probe announced Thursday.
U.N. officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
Earlier Thursday, Defense Ministry spokesman Pierre Bayle said the ministry was in the process of declassifying a military command report about the case, following a request from the French Justice Ministry.
In December 2013, France deployed troops to the Central African Republic to protect civilians from sectarian violence. The alleged sexual abuses took place over the following five months or so.
French President Francois Hollande has promised tough punishment for any soldier found guilty of sexually assaulting children in the case.
Paula Donovan of activist group AIDS-Free World has said that about 16 French soldiers were accused of abusing 10 boys aged between 8 and 15, in some cases in exchange for food.