France seeks quick return of soldiers in Burkina child sex abuse case

France seeks quick return of soldiers in Burkina child sex abuse case
PHOTO: AFP

PARIS - France said Wednesday it wanted to "quickly" bring home two soldiers suspended over allegations they sexually abused children, including a five-year-old girl, in the west African country of Burkina Faso.

"We have contacted the Burkina judicial authorities so that the repatriation is done quickly and justice can act," said government spokesman Stephane Le Foll.

The allegations, and Paris's swift response, follow another alleged sex abuse scandal involving French troops in Central African Republic (CAR) that only came to light after it was leaked to the British press.

One of the alleged victims in Burkina Faso was a five-year-old girl whose father found a camera containing images of his daughter being sexually abused.

"There was a soldier who filmed the scene with a camera while the second touched (the girl)," a senior police officer in Burkina Faso told AFP, adding that the parents were friends with the alleged perpetrators.

After discovering the camera at the scene, the father went to the French embassy in Ouagadougou, which in turn alerted the police, who have opened an inquiry, the source said.

Paris prosecutors opened their own investigation on Tuesday, while the defence ministry said the military was also looking into the allegations.

"French forces are engaged in a fight against terrorism (in Burkina Faso), they are there to protect the population," said Le Foll. "The image of the army is at stake, the image of France."

Military police investigating

French military police, responsible for investigations into soldiers deployed on overseas operations, were due to arrive Wednesday from Niger to investigate alongside their Burkina Faso counterparts, a judicial source said.

There are about 220 French soldiers stationed in Burkina Faso as part of an anti-terrorism operation covering five regional countries spanning from Mali to Chad.

There are about 900 French soldiers in CAR, down from an earlier deployment of 2,000.

A group of children in CAR alleged troops sexually abused minors at a centre for displaced people in the capital Bangui between December 2013 and June 2014, and 14 French soldiers are under investigation.

Some of the abuse reportedly took place after children in the conflict-wracked country begged the peacekeepers for food.

The French government's decision to go public about the allegations in Burkina Faso, and almost immediate suspension of the two soldiers implicated in the case, contrasts with the secrecy that shrouded the scandal in CAR, which was only revealed to the public by British newspaper The Guardian.

"This is an army that confronts (such accusations) head on," said the army's chief of staff, General Jean-Pierre Bosser.

"Either these cases are true, which would be extremely serious," he said. "Or, they are not proven, which is just as serious (because)... all our soldiers will be perceived as child rapists."

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