GOMA, Congo (AP) — The United Nations has suspended and detained eight peacekeepers in eastern Congo over allegations of sexual exploitation, a U.N. official said.
A statement from the U.N. on Wednesday said it has taken “strong measures in response to reports of serious misconduct by peacekeepers.” The peacekeepers have been confined pending further details and a full investigation.
According to a U.N. official, the eight peacekeepers are from South Africa and they were detained in the city of Beni in North Kivu province after being caught with prostitutes at an unauthorized bar after curfew. The official was not authorized to speak about the specifics of the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Conflict has been simmering in eastern Congo for decades where more than 120 armed groups are fighting in the region, mostly for land and control of mines with valuable minerals, while some groups are trying to protect their communities.
More than 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers operate in the country. Their mission is to protect civilians, deter armed groups, and build the capacity of state institutions and services.
Despite the presence of the peacekeepers in Congo for decades, the conflict has continued and is increasing.
Scores of civilians, including women and children, have been killed by the M23 rebels in the east. Earlier this week, at least four people were killed — including two Chinese nationals — when armed men attacked a mining village in Fizi territory in South Kivu province, according to local officials.
In recent months, deadly protests have erupted against the U.N. mission with demonstrators accusing it of not doing enough to protect them. Congo’s government has said it wants the U.N. to withdraw from the country in 2024.
Accusations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in Congo are not new and in the past have been considered the epicenter of the U.N.’s sexual abuse crisis.
In 2017, of the 2,000 sexual abuse and exploitation complaints made against the U.N. worldwide over the past 12 years, more than 700 occurred in Congo.
Kamale reported from Kinshasa. Associated Press reporter Sam Mednick contributed from Cotonou, Benin.