Posted by africanpress on September 19, 2008
Goma (Democratic Republic of Congo) - Although a group of Indian peacekeeping soldiers accused of sexual abuse in eastern Congo have returned home, allegations of misconduct continue to surround the battalion.
The United Nations confirmed last month that an internal investigation had uncovered credible evidence that members of an Indian unit stationed in North Kivu province �may have engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse�. A UN source said around 100 peacekeepers from India allegedly used children both to work for them and to hire Congolese girls for sex. The source said the children were used as domestic servants and to pimp for prostitutes, some as young as 12 or 13 years old.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said he was �deeply troubled� by the findings, and the Indian government promised a swift and thorough investigation.
Peacekeepers are strictly forbidden to socialise with local people, but Mapendo Polepole, a 28-year-old prostitute from Goma, who heads an organisation of women living with AIDS, told IWPR that Indian soldiers from the camp in central Goma are regular customers. �They have sexual intercourse with us, without condoms, in their jeeps, during a patrol and in their camps,� she said, adding that the soldiers pay 20 US dollars for her services rather than the going rate of two dollars.
Peacekeepers are not allowed to seek entertainment outside the barracks or leave the camp after 6 pm. The UN says all personnel are made aware of the mission�s code of conduct and �no-go areas� before signing on � and their battalion commander is responsible for their actions while they are on a peacekeeping mission.
A UN official in New York admitted the regulations were sometimes hard to enforce. �No matter how many rules we have in place, there is always a way to go around them. It is so hard to monitor,� said the official.
Polepole says peacekeepers in Goma have continued to flout the regulations since the 100 peacekeepers left. Her allegations that prostitution was continuing on and around the Indian base were repeated by other sex workers in Goma. Mado Kahindo, 24, says Indian peacekeepers still come to her home for sex. �They stop their patrolling jeep in front of my hut after midnight,� she said, adding they refuse to enter the house as they do not want to be faced with a prostitute�s children. �I have to come outside for sexual intercourse in their jeep.�
Nick Birnback, chief of the peacekeeping force�s public affairs section in New York, told IWPR that a �zero tolerance� policy was in place and any peacekeeper who broke the rules would be sent home. �There is simply no excuse,� he said, adding that MONUC has recently increased foot and vehicle patrols to ensure soldiers are respecting the curfew.
In light of the problems, Birnback said the MONUC official responsible for military conduct and investigations is to be relocated from the capital Kinshasa to Goma. For those who want to complain, MONUC has set up a hotline where locals can report any wrongdoing by peacekeepers. However, Birnback admitted that these measures might not always be effective. �It doesn�t necessarily mean that people are aware of it � or they may be afraid to use it,� he said.
Polepole said she would not report the attack on her, as prior experience suggested there was no point. She said Congolese police believed women like her deserved this kind of treatment, and reporting incidents of sexual violence to the police was most likely to end in the arrest of the woman herself.
The Congo peacekeeping force has been beset with bad publicity in recent years, with 140 cases implicating soldiers in prostitution or sexual abuse recorded in 2004-06.
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