Almost 100 girls in the Central African Republic have said they were sexually abused by international peacekeepers, with three claiming they were tied up and forced to have sex with a dog by a French military commander in 2014.
The United Nations has announced an urgent investigation into allegations of rape and assault, saying reports dated back three years.
A delegation from its “Minusca” mission aiming to stabilise the war-torn country interviewed victims on Saturday, uncovering horrific claims against UN and local forces, as well as troops sent by France.
The results of the investigation have not yet been made public but the Aids-Free World campaign group said sources had passed it details.
A spokesperson said three girls reported that they and a fourth victim, who has since died of an unknown illness, were tied up and undressed at a military camp by a commander from the French “Sangaris” force.
They said they were then forced to have sex with a dog before being given 5,000 Central African Francs (£6) each.
One of the victims said she was called “the Sangaris’ dog” by people in the community after the attack.
The three surviving girls had sought basic medical treatment, Aids-Free World said.
It is far from the only report of abuse in CAR, where peacekeepers have been accused of raping girls as young as 12.
A report leaked last year included claims that French troops forced refugee children fleeing violence to perform sex acts for food.
Unicef has reportedly interviewed 98 girls who claim to have been sexually abused by international peacekeepers in just one province of CAR.
The UN Secretary-General is to consider dispatching high-level envoys to countries whose troops have been implicated and “prima facie allegations have been confirmed”, Aids-Free World reported.
The group said the information it received – including on the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl by a peacekeeper in a hotel on Monday – is in the hands of senior UN officials.
Allegations of child rape and other sexual abuse has put the spotlight on UN peacekeepers in recent months, especially those based in Central African Republic and Congo.
There have been similar allegations against troops from the French intervention, Operation Sangaris, which operates independently in CAR.
On Monday, the UN announced that a delegation had been sent to investigate reports in Kemo prefecture after it received new “allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse both by UN and non-UN forces and civilians”.
The head of Minusca, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, described his “despair and anger” at the allegations and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described the latest allegations as “sickening” and said investigations would leave no stone unturned.
“We are taking these allegations – some of which are particularly odious – extremely seriously,”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described the latest allegations as “sickening” and said investigations would leave no stone unturned.
“We are taking these allegations – some of which are particularly odious – extremely seriously,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein added.
“It is vital that the victims are protected and receive all necessary care.”
Most of the allegations relate to Burundian and Gabonese contingents present in the Kemo region between 2013 and 2015, as well as to the separate French Sangaris force stationed in the same area during that time, a spokesperson said.
Relevant authorities in all three countries have been formally notified of the allegations against their troops.
CAR was plunged into conflict after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels toppled the president in 2013, leading to the formation of the Christian anti-Balaka militia, unleashing sectarian fighting that forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes.
The UN sent a 10,000-strong force in the following year to help restore order and France launched its intervention at the request of the Bangui government.
Violence declined in November and hopes for stability rose with the inauguration of a new President on Wednesday but sexual abuse and war crimes remain a serious concern.
The French ministry of defence have not responded to The Independent‘s request for a comment.