French soldiers suspended over child sex abuse claims
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France's military has suspended two of its soldiers over allegations of child sex abuse – including filming the abuse of a 5-year-old girl – in the West African country of Burkina Faso, the French defence ministry said Tuesday.
"Two French soldiers on mission in Burkina Faso were suspected ... of engaging in acts of a sexual nature with two children," the ministry said in a statement.
One of the alleged victims in Burkina Faso was a 5-year-old girl whose father found a camera containing images of his daughter being sexually abused.
"There was a soldier who filmed the scene with a camera while the second touched" the girl, a senior police officer in Burkina Faso told AFP, adding that the parents had been friends with the alleged perpetrators.
After discovering the camera images the girl's father went to the French embassy in Ouagadougou, which alerted the local police, the officer said. Local authorities have launched an investigation.
Paris prosecutors opened their own investigation on Tuesday evening, a judicial source told AFP.
The suspensions follow an alleged child sex-abuse scandal involving French troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) that caused outrage in France and around the world. The alleged abuse concerned about 10 children and took place between December 2013 and June 2014 at a centre for displaced people.
French military police, who are responsible for investigations into soldiers deployed on overseas operations, will arrive from Niger on Wednesday to investigate in concert with their Burkina Faso counterparts, the source said.
There are about 220 French soldiers stationed in Burkina Faso as part of a French anti-terrorism operation conducted in concert with five countries and spanning the Sahel region from Mali to Chad.
Sex abuse claims in CAR
In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24 in April, aid worker Paula Donovan, who shared details of the CAR report with The Guardian, said there was a "tremendous" amount of sex abuse going on in the refugee camps.
The decision to go public and the almost immediate suspension of the two soldiers in the Burkina Faso case contrasts with the treatment of the scandal in CAR.
Fourteen French soldiers are now under investigation for allegedly sexually abusing minors at a centre for displaced people in the capital. Some of the abuse reportedly took place after the children in the conflict-ridden country begged the peacekeepers for food.
There are about 900 French soldiers currently serving in CAR, down from an initial contingent of 2,000 that was gradually reduced to make way for a UN peacekeeping mission aimed at countering the inter-religious violence that has plagued the impoverished country since a March 2013 coup.
African soldiers taking part in a UN peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic have since also been accused of sexually abusing street children in Bangui.
The total number of allegations of sexual abuse against members of UN peacekeeping missions was 51 in 2014, down from 66 the year before, according to the secretary-general’s latest annual report on the issue.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)