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Last Updated: Friday, 13 June, 2003, 16:55 GMT 17:55 UK
Irish troops in Eritrea sex scandal
By Jonah Fisher
BBC, Asmara

Irish military police are investigating claims that peacekeepers in Eritrea used prostitutes - some as young as 15.

UN peacekeepers in Eritrea
Nearly 200 Irish soldiers have been based in the capital as part of the mission overseeing the border demarcation with Ethiopia.

For the past 18 months, the troops have worked to protect the UN headquarters and staff in Asmara.

But now it is their activities outside work which are under scrutiny.

Four military policemen from Ireland are here investigating claims, made in a confidential UN report, that soldiers paid Eritrean women for sex.

Most damagingly, it is alleged that one of these women is just 15.

Timing

"We consider these allegations to be very serious" an Irish army spokesman said

"Particularly if it's shown to have been a 15-year-old woman. It's not acceptable - our troops are in a position of trust".

It's not the first time Irish forces in Eritrea have found themselves at the centre of controversy.

Last year they caused an outcry when one of them videoed himself with an Eritrean prostitute, a tape which then fell into public hands.

He was disciplined and sent back to Ireland, she was sentenced to two years in jail. This investigation though appears to have been cleverly timed. The final contingent of Irish soldiers leave Eritrea next week. To be replaced by what the UN hope will more retiring Finnish troops.


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