ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – The United Nations is investigating Moroccan peacekeepers suspected of sexually abusing girls under age 18 in Ivory Coast and possibly leaving some of them pregnant, a U.N. spokeswoman said Sunday.
Another U.N. official said as many as 100 girls may have been abused over the past several months. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
The U.N. said Friday in New York that an investigation of peacekeeping troops had “revealed serious allegations of widespread sexual exploitation and abuse” in the West African nation.
Margherita Amodeo, a spokeswoman for the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast, said Sunday the suspects were part of a unit in a 730-strong battalion of Moroccan peacekeepers and the entire battalion is now confined to barracks in the northern city of Bouake during investigations.
Few details of the allegations have come to light, and Amodeo said only that they concerned girls under the age of 18.
“There were a number of cases involving minors, but only an investigation will reveal the ages of the victims” and details of any abuse, she said.
There is a possibility that some of the victims got pregnant or gave birth to children, Amodeo said. But she could not confirm any cases.
Peacekeepers found to have committed abuses will be sent home and punished under the laws of their country, the U.N. said.
About 9,000 U.N. troops and 3,500 French soldiers have been deployed in Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer, since 2003 to prevent all-out civil war. Many of the troops used to patrol the giant buffer zone that divided the country into a rebel-controlled north and a government-ruled south after a brief civil war in 2002.
Since signing a peace deal March 4, Ivorians have begun dismantling the buffer zone, and some international peacekeepers have been preparing to leave.
Amodeo said allegations against the peacekeeping mission were isolated and “should not detract from the remarkable work of the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast, particularly the work of the Moroccan soldiers.”
The allegations are the first of their kind against the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast. However, U.N. officials have said more than 300 members of peacekeeping missions worldwide have been investigated for sexual exploitation and abuse over the past three years in nations including Congo, Cambodia and Haiti.
At least 18 civilian employees have been dismissed and 17 international police and 144 military personnel sent back to their home countries.