Eight UN Peacekeepers in DR Congo detained over sexual abuse claims

UN peacekeepers and members of the Congolese army in Mavivi, near Beni, North Kivu province. [Via VOA]

The U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) announced on Wednesday that it had taken "strong measures" against peacekeepers suspected of "serious misconduct."

According to internal documents of the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission, seen by AFP, the eight peacekeepers deployed in Beni, eastern Congo, were arrested on October 1 and an officer suspended a week later in connection with alleged sexual exploitation and violence.

All belong to the South African contingent of the U.N. force and may be involved in what internal reports describe as a "systematic widespread violation" of U.N. rules.

"The Office of Internal Oversight Services has been learned and precautionary measures have already been taken in accordance with the UN Secretary-General's zero-tolerance policy," MONUSCO said in a statement late Wednesday.

The measures taken "include the suspension, detention and confinement of the peacekeepers concerned,” the U.N. force said, adding that it "strongly condemns such behavior, which is unworthy of U.N. personnel.”

"Bars and brothels named Soweto, Bloemfontein, and Cape Town," after South African towns, have sprung up near the MONUSCO base at Mavivi, near Beni, according to one of the documents.

According to a preliminary report, the officer in question "intimidated and verbally threatened U.N. personnel" following the arrest of the peacekeepers.

Since May, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi has been calling on Southern African Development Community countries, including South Africa, to deploy in the country in support of the Congolese army in the face of the M23 rebels, who have seized large swathes of North Kivu province.

The DRC government has also been calling for an "accelerated" departure of the U.N. force from December, accusing it of having failed to end violence by armed groups during its 25-year presence.