More than 600 troops from Congo Republic serving as UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic will be returning home following allegations of sex abuse and other misconduct, UN officials said. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will announce the withdrawal on Tuesday during a news conference at the United Nations, officials told AFP.
The decision follows a report by the UN commander of the MINUSCA force who warned that Brazzaville should either take steps to rein in the troops or be forced to repatriate them. Lieutenant General Balla Keita of Senegal told UN headquarters that he had sent six letters of blame to the battalion commander already this year over alleged sexual abuse, fuel trafficking and lack of discipline.
The 629 peacekeepers deployed in Berberati, the country’s third-largest city, are Brazzaville’s only contribution to UN peacekeeping. Last year, 120 troops from the same contingent were sent back following allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation (SEA) involving at least 7 victims, six of whom were children. But following a MINUSCA assessment of the Berberati base in March, Keita said there had been “no improvements in the behavior of the Congolese battalion.”
“The battalion is notorious for SEA misconducts, fuel trafficking and poor discipline,” Keita wrote in a memo sent last month. “The situation has deteriorated to the point that the battalion is no longer trustable because of poor leadership, lack of discipline, and operational deficiencies,” he added.
The memo and a 66-page UN assessment of the Congolese troops were released by the Code Blue Campaign of non-governmental organisations seeking to expose cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers. The 12,000-strong MINUSCA force has been plagued by a wave of sexual abuse allegations since the mission began in 2014 to help restore stability to the country.
One of Africa’s poorest countries, the Central African Republic descended into bloody sectarian fighting after the 2013 overthrow of longtime leader Francois Bozize. Former UN chief Ban Ki-moon in 2015 took the rare step of firing the then-head of the peacekeeping force over his handling of dozens of misconduct cases, including the rape of minors.
With sex abuse cases continuing to surface, Guterres vowed to toughen up the response to the damaging allegations when he took the UN helm in January. UN critics in the United States — many of whom are in the US Congress — have pointed to the mounting cases of misconduct by UN peacekeepers in their campaign to cut funding to UN blue helmets.
In the report to UN headquarters, the force commander said the Congolese contingent showed a “poor display of leadership and military discipline” and failed to maintain basic logistics. He noted that the unit had only 18 vehicles that were serviceable and that 44 others were awaiting maintenance. The assessment described the shoddy state of the Berberati camp, with no proper water supply, field toilets and little fencing to restrict access to the site by civilians.