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Central African Republic peacekeeping chief fired over force sex abuse charges

Central African Republic peacekeeping chief fired over force sex abuse charges
United Nations peacekeeping soldiers from Rwanda patrol in the Central African Republic capital, Bangui, in December. (Pacome Pabandji / AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations chief has fired the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic over the force's handling of dozens of sexual and other misconduct allegations, including rape and killing.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking with unusual force, said Wednesday that he has accepted the resignation of Babacar Gaye of Senegal and declared, "Enough is enough." He has called a special session of the U.N. Security Council for Thursday to discuss the sexual abuse allegations that have rocked the world body.

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"I cannot put into words how anguished and angered and ashamed I am by recurrent reports over the years of reports of sex abuse and exploitation by U.N. forces," said Ban, who first heard about new allegations on Tuesday, a week after the first U.N. officials were informed. "I will not tolerate any action that causes people to replace trust with fear."

He said he also will hold a special meeting Thursday with the heads of all peacekeeping missions around the world to stress their responsibilities to "report allegations immediately, investigate thoroughly and act decisively."

Ban's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, called the firing of such a high-level official "unprecedented."

The peacekeeping force in Central African Republic has faced 57 allegations of possible misconduct, including 11 cases of possible sexual abuse, since the mission was established in April 2014 to calm deadly violence between Muslims and Christians, Dujarric said. Ban appointed Gaye in July.

Dujarric could not immediately say how many peacekeepers were involved in the 57 allegations.

Gaye did not respond to requests for comment. His resignation letter, seen by the Associated Press, said the problem goes beyond one U.N. mission and is likely to continue.

"Going forward, you may wish to consider that there could be a systemic problem warranting consideration at the highest level of the organization," he wrote.

Gaye's letter also said he had taken a "very robust stand" against misconduct, and that his mission had repatriated many peacekeepers for such actions. U.N. officials did not immediately specify how many had been sent home.

Ban agreed that the problem of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers is not limited to Central African Republic.

"Sexual exploitation and abuse is a global scourge, and a systemic challenge that demands a systemic response." He urged victims to come forward and not to be ashamed: "Shame belongs to the perpetrators."

The firing came a day after Amnesty International accused U.N. peacekeepers in Central African Republic's capital, Bangui, of indiscriminately killing a 16-year-old boy and his father and raping a 12-year-old girl in separate incidents this month.

That followed accusations that U.N. peacekeepers had sexually abused street children in Bangui and a separate allegation of child sexual abuse against a peacekeeper in the eastern part of the country.

In an email Wednesday, the legal director of Doctors Without Borders, Francoise Bouchet-Saulnier, said that since September, the group has treated four minors who reported sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeeping forces in three separate cases in Central African Republic. They include the 12-year-old girl involved in the latest allegations.

"The outrageous and indecent actions of a few people tarnish the heroic work of tens of thousands of U.N. peacekeepers and personnel," Ban said. "Every allegation must be thoroughly investigated."

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The U.N., however, has no powers of criminal investigation or prosecution, leaving it up to peacekeepers' home countries — which U.N. officials often don't name publicly.

The U.N. mission in Central African Republic is also being investigated over how it handled child sexual abuse allegations against French troops last year, in which children as young as 9 said they had traded sodomy and oral sex for food.

Ban said he was looking forward to an independent panel's findings, which are expected soon. French authorities are also investigating.

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