The Paris prosecutor’s office announced Thursday the opening of an investigation over claims that French soldiers have raped children on a peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2013 and 2014.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said in a statement that it had decided to launch an inquiry into “the rape of minors under 15 years old by persons who had abused the authority conferred upon them by their roles” as well as “complicity” in this crime.
“Investigations will now continue under the authority of an instructing magistrate in order to get to the truth of the accusations,” read the statement.
The probe was launched after the prosecutor’s office received a reply to its request for information from the UN concerning alleged sexual abuse by French soldiers serving with the peacekeeping Operation Sangaris.
The move came a day after the CAR government said it would launch its own legal action against the French soldiers.
The French Defense Ministry said Sunday that a preliminary investigation had been launched into the rape allegations when they were first received in July 2014, explaining that 14 soldiers had been accused of committing sexual violations against six children in the CAR.
The case was brought to public attention by British newspaper The Guardian on April 29th, which referred to a classified UN report on sexual violations committed by French troops in CAR.
The report said the incidents had occurred in the summer of 2014, referring to the rape of numerous underprivileged children in the Central African Republic.
Some 2,000 French troops have been deployed in CAR since late 2013, when the country descended into anarchy following the ouster of President Francois Bozize — a Christian — by predominantly Muslim seleka rebels.
The rebels later installed Michel Djotodia, a Muslim, as interim president.
Since then, the country has been plagued by tit-for-tat sectarian violence between Christian anti-balaka militias and Muslim former seleka fighters.
Anti-Muslim violence escalated since Catherine Samba-Panza, a Christian, was elected interim president in January 2014.
Christians, who account for the majority of the country’s population, accuse Muslims of supporting former seleka rebels who are blamed for attacking Christian homes, looting property and carrying out summary executions.