France has suspended two of its soldiers over allegations they sexually abused children, including a five-year-old girl, in the west African country of Burkina Faso, the defence ministry said Tuesday.
“Two French soldiers on mission in Burkina Faso were suspected… of engaging in acts of a sexual nature with two children,” France’s defence ministry said in a statement.
The suspensions follow an alleged sex abuse scandal involving French troops in Central African Republic (CAR), which caused outrage and only came to light after claims were leaked to the British press.
One of the alleged victims in Burkina Faso was a five-year-old girl whose father found a camera containing images of his daughter being sexually abused.
“There was a soldier who filmed the scene with a camera while the second touched” the girl, a senior police officer in Burkina Faso told AFP, adding that the parents were friends with the alleged perpetrators.
After discovering the camera at the scene, the father went to the French embassy in Ouagadougou, which in turn alerted the police, who have opened an inquiry, the source said.
Paris prosecutors opened their own investigation on Tuesday evening, a judicial source told AFP, while the defence ministry said the military was also looking into the allegations.
Chief of Defence Staff General Pierre de Villiers is leading the army’s investigation, and “if the facts are proved, the army will show itself implacable against the two people involved,” the ministry said.
– Military police investigating –
French military police, responsible for investigations into soldiers deployed on overseas operations, will arrive Wednesday from Niger to investigate alongside their Burkina Faso counterparts, the judicial source said.
There are about 220 French soldiers stationed in Burkina Faso as part of a French anti-terrorism operation covering five regional countries spanning from Mali to Chad.
There are about 900 French soldiers in CAR, where the initial quota of 2,000 was gradually reduced to make way for a UN peacekeeping mission.
A group of children in CAR alleged troops sexually abused minors at a centre for displaced people in the capital Bangui between December 2013 and June 2014, and 14 French soldiers are under investigation.
Some of the abuse reportedly took place after the children in the conflict-ridden country begged the peacekeepers for food.
The decision to go public and the almost immediate suspension of the two soldiers in the Burkina Faso case contrasts with the treatment of the scandal in CAR, which was only revealed to the public by British newspaper The Guardian.
The CAR case also sparked unease in the French army, which fears that such accusations, founded or not, are increasing.
“This is an army that confronts (such accusations) head on,” said the army’s chief of staff, General Jean-Pierre Bosser.
“Either these cases are true, which would be extremely serious,” he said. “Or, they are not proven, which is just as serious (because)… all our soldiers will be perceived as child rapists.”