French soldiers have sexually abused children in the poverty-stricken Central African Republic (CAR), exploiting their need for food and water, one mother in CAR – who alleges her son was abused at the hands of French troops – has said.
The woman – called Germaine – said French soldiers offered children biscuits and water in return for sexual favors, noting that the exploited children's ages ranged from ten to 12 years old.
Germaine, who is now caring for some of them, alleged that the incidents had taken place at a refugee camp in capital Bangui.
Hers is one of several such accounts heard by The Anadolu Agency.
The allegations have prompted an outcry in the international media – and the French media in particular – since they first emerged earlier this week.
French prosecutors, meanwhile, have vowed to investigate claims that French soldiers deployed in CAR – which in recent years has been rocked by sectarian conflict – had raped local children.
French President Francois Hollande said he would have "no mercy" on soldiers found to have committed violations at Bangui's M'poko refugee camp between December 2013 and June 2014.
Charlotte (not her real name) said her 12-year-old son, Sylvere, had been sexually abused by French soldiers when he was only ten years old.
"Camp children would go to the French soldiers because they offered them biscuits and water," a visibly distressed Charlotte said.
She told The Anadolu Agency that she began to have doubts when she saw her son walking in a strange way.
The boy didn't tell his mother about the abuse, but one day she heard other children calling him "Sangaris woman." Sangaris is the name of the French mission in the CAR)."
"Operation Sangaris" is the name of the French army's deployment in CAR, ongoing since December 2013.
When Charlotte heard this, she began pushing Sylvere to tell her what happened.
"Only then he started to tell me what happened to him," she recalled.
"My son was sexually abused in return for a can of sardines," the distressed mother added before breaking into tears.
Another woman said her son had suffered similar abuse at the hands of French troops.
The woman, who goes by the name of Rita, said the problem began when she and her family arrived at the refugee camp in December of 2013.
"We did not have anything to eat," Rita said. "The children were very hungry."
In a bid to get food, she recalled, the children would sometimes appeal to French and Georgian troops deployed in the area.
She said the foreign troops would ask "immoral" things of the children in return for something to eat.
"Nobody could do anything to stop it because they were afraid," Rita said.
Mothers like Rita say they couldn't lodge a complaint against the troops' actions at the time because the country had lacked a functioning central government.
Some of them, however, are take comfort in the fact that abusive soldiers may now be brought to justice.
"That would be enough for me," Charlotte said. "I do not want anything more."
CAR Attorney-General Ghislain Grezenguet, for his part, said he had yet to receive any complaints in this regard.
"We will speak with the victims and open investigations, given that these incidents took place in our country," he said.
France said Thursday that 14 soldiers had been accused of committing sexual violations against six children in CAR.
The case was brought to public attention by the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper on Wednesday, which referred to a classified UN report on sexual violations committed by French troops in CAR.
The report said the incidents had occurred in the summer of 2014, referring to the rape of numerous underprivileged children in CAR.
Some 2,000 French troops have been deployed in CAR since late 2013, when the country descended into anarchy following the ouster of President Francois Bozize – a Christian – by predominantly Muslim seleka rebels.
The rebels later installed Michel Djotodia, a Muslim, as interim president.
Since then, the country has been plagued by tit-for-tat sectarian violence between Christian anti-balaka militias and Muslim former seleka fighters.
Anti-Muslim violence has escalated since Catherine Samba-Panza, a Christian, was elected interim president in January of last year.
Christians, who account for the majority of the country's population, accuse Muslims of supporting former seleka rebels who are blamed for attacking Christian homes, looting property and carrying out summary executions.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.