On Sunday, the South African army announced the recall of nearly a dozen peacekeepers suspected of operating a system of mass prostitution in front of their base in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

On Wednesday, the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monusco) said it had arrested eight South African peacekeepers deployed in the eastern town of Beni on charges of “systematic and widespread violation” of UN rules against sexual exploitation and abuse, and suspended one officer.

“In view of the seriousness of the accusations”, the South African army announced that it had “decided to recall the soldiers to South Africa to respond”, adding that investigators had been sent to the DRC to look into the matter.

According to internal Monusco documents consulted by AFP, the peacekeepers arrested are accused of being involved in a system of “brothels” and “makeshift bars that appeared in front of the Monusco base at Mavivi”, near Beni, and were used for prostitution.

According to a preliminary report, the officer in question “intimidated and verbally threatened” members of the UN, following the arrest of peacekeepers for frequenting brothels, which resulted in an attempted escape, a fight and a chase with elements of the UN military police.

This week, the UN Secretary-General’s spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, had indicated that Monusco had received information indicating that the soldiers concerned “were meeting after curfew in a bar outside the boundaries (of the base) known to be a place of prostitution”.

When they came to arrest the accused, UN police officers “were physically attacked and threatened by members of the South African contingent”, he added.

Since May, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi has been calling on SADC (Southern African Development Community) countries, including South Africa, to deploy in the DRC to support the Congolese army in the face of the M23 rebellion, which has seized large swathes of the east of the country.

The DRC government is also calling for an “accelerated” departure of the UN force from next December, accusing it, after 25 years of presence, of having failed to put an end to violence by armed groups.

UN contingents in Africa have been accused on several occasions in the past of fostering prostitution, exploitation and sexual abuse of young local men and girls around their bases.

Last June, Tanzania announced the total repatriation of a 60-strong military unit following “allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse” involving 11 of them.

Source : Africa News

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