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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 February, 2005, 20:38 GMT
UN soldiers arrested in DR Congo
UN peacekeeper and a Congolese soldier
The allegations have been deeply damaging for the UN
Six Moroccan soldiers serving as UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been arrested over sex abuse claims, Moroccan officials say.

The head of the Moroccan contingent of UN peacekeepers and his deputy have also been relieved of their duties.

The move follows an inquiry by the UN into repeated allegations that its peacekeepers in DR Congo have sexually exploited and abused women and girls.

The six were sent as part of a UN force meant to protect civilians.

Instead it is alleged that the peacekeepers sexually abused Congolese children.

The Moroccan government's announcement of their arrest was immediately welcomed by the UN mission in Congo.

The spokesman, Mamadou Bah, said the organisation hoped the action taken by Morocco would serve as an example to all nations contributing troops in DR Congo.

Sex ban

The allegations over the past year that peacekeepers have sexually exploited women and girls, including bribing children with food in return for sex, have been highly damaging for the UN.

Last month a team investigated 72 allegations of abuse by UN peacekeepers and civilian staff. Twenty-six of these, involving soldiers from Pakistan, Nepal, Tunisia, South Africa and Uruguay, were substantiated.

In response, the UN introduced a non-fraternisation policy, banning its peacekeepers from having sex with local people.

But UN officials stressed they havd no power to discipline peacekeepers.

They can only send them home and request that the country of origin takes action.

And it is only when countries like Morocco prosecute offenders, they say, that sexual abuse by peacekeepers can be stamped out.

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