ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast - United Nations peacekeepers in Ivory Coast enticed underage girls in a poor part of the West African nation to exchange sex for food, according to a United States embassy cable released by WikiLeaks.
The cable written in January 2010 focuses on the behavior of Beninese peacekeepers stationed in the western town of Toulepleu, an area that has been at the crosshairs of the nation’s 10-year-long conflict.
A random poll of 10 underage girls in Toulepleu by aid group Save The Children UK in 2009 found that eight performed sexual acts for Benin peacekeepers on a regular basis in order to secure their most basic needs. “Eight of the 10 said they had ongoing sexual relationships with Beninese soldiers in exchange for food or lodging,’’ the diplomat wrote in the cable, citing information shared with the embassy by a protection officer.
On Tuesday, Michel Bonnardeaux, a United Nations spokesman, confirmed that in April, 16 Beninese peacekeepers were repatriated to Benin and are barred from serving in the UN, following a yearlong investigation.
“We see it as a command and control problem,’’ said Bonnardeaux by phone from New York. Of the 16, 10 were commanders, and the rest were soldiers.
The commanders, he said, “failed to maintain an environment that prevents sexual exploitation and abuse.’’
Sexual misconduct by UN troops has been reported in several countries, including Congo, Cambodia, and Haiti - as well as in an earlier incident involving Moroccan peacekeepers in Ivory Coast.
In 2007, a 730-strong battalion of peacekeepers from Morocco was asked to suspend its activities in the northern Ivorian city of Bouake after the UN received allegations of sexual misconduct involving local girls.
A report published a year later by Save the Children UK identified Ivory Coast as one of the places where sexual barter between peacekeepers and girls was occurring. The peacekeepers traded food as well as mobile phones for sex, the report said.