GENEVA/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Twelve more children in the Central African Republic have accused European soldiers and United Nations peacekeepers of sexual abuse, the United Nations said on Friday, with one senior official saying such abuse was "rampant" there.
Foreign troops were deployed in Central African Republic after mainly Muslim rebels seized power in the majority Christian country in 2013, provoking reprisals and fuelling religious and inter-communal violence that has killed thousands. French troops have been in the country since December 2013. European Union troops were there from April 2014 to March 2015. A United Nations peacekeeping mission assumed authority from African Union troops in September 2014.
U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support, Anthony Banbury, appeared emotional while announcing the new U.N. cases.
"It's hard to imagine the outrage that people working for the United Nations and for the causes of peace and security feel when these kinds of allegations come to light, particularly involving minors, which is so hard to understand," Banbury said.
"The United Nations is doing everything we possibly can to assist the victims, to bring accountability and justice ... and hopefully to prevent any such cases from recurring," he told reporters in New York.
Six children accused troops from France, Georgia and an unidentified European country of sexual abuse, said to have occurred mostly in 2014 in or near a camp for displaced people next to the airport in Central African Republic's capital Bangui.
Those three countries and the European Union are investigating the accusations, the United Nations said.
Another six children accused U.N. troops from Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger and Morocco and U.N. police from Senegal of sex abuse. The number of allegations made in 2015 against U.N. peacekeepers is now 22.
Bangladesh and Morocco are investigating, while the United Nations is investigating the cases involving Democratic Republic and Niger after those states failed to respond to the allegations. The United Nations is investigating the Senegal case, in line with standard procedure involving police.
"What is abundantly clear in the Central African Republic is that it has been rampant," U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.
"All these peacekeeping forces have played a very important role, and we shouldn't ignore that. But ... we can't ignore the fact that hopefully a small number in these armies are committing appalling abuses," Colville said.
Convictions have been "far, far too few", Colville said.
Last month, an independent review panel accused the United Nations and its agencies of grossly mishandling allegations of child sexual abuse by international peacekeepers in Central African Republic in 2013 and 2014.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Louise Ireland, Toni Reinhold