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Eight UN peacekeepers detained in Congo over sexual abuse claims

EIGHT U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been detained over allegations of sexual abuse, sources told Reuters, as the U.N. said it would investigate unspecified serious misconduct.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in eastern Congo, known as MONUSCO, said in a statement that it had suspended a number of its peacekeepers in response to reports of the misconduct without giving further details.

A U.N. source and a Congolese security source said the allegations concerned eight South African peacekeepers in the eastern city of Beni. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss it with the media.

“We have been informed by our U.N. counterparts that eight South African peacekeepers have been detained over accusations of sexual abuse,” said the security source in Beni.

The U.N. source said the allegations involved brothels that were set up near the camps of the South African contingent.

Spokespeople from South Africa’s defence department and foreign ministry and the Congolese government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

MONUSCO and other U.N. peacekeeping missions in Africa and beyond have long been plagued by allegations of sexual misconduct. Previous sex abuse scandals have emerged in Congo, Haiti and the Central African Republic.

The U.N. has created special units in recent years to combat sexual abuse and assist victims, including in Congo, but has struggled to stop the problem.

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Under the current system, the U.N. can investigate crimes and send peacekeepers home but has no power to prosecute.

“Precautionary measures have already been initiated in line with the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse and other forms of misconduct,” said the U.N. statement released late on Wednesday.

The measures include suspension from duty and confinement to quarters pending an investigation, it said.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, which was initially established during a civil war that lasted from 1998-2003, has some 17,000 personnel deployed in the east of the country where various militias and rebel groups continue to fight.