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UN Report Seeks Peacekeeping Reforms to Counter Sexual Abuse

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is recommending tough new rules governing the conduct of peacekeeping troops in the field. The recommendations follow a series of peacekeeper sex scandals.

U.N. peacekeeping operations chief Jean-Marie Guehenno said Thursday he is deeply troubled by continuing reports that blue-helmeted peacekeepers accused of sex crimes are going unpunished.

He called the allegations "very serious."

"They're a terrible stain on peacekeeping, there's no question about it," he admitted. "We come to those countries with a duty of care, we come to help, and some of the peacekeepers obviously have done terrible things, and that must be eradicated."

The world body has been stung by reports of sex abuse by peacekeepers in U.N. missions from West Africa and Haiti to East Timor and Bosnia. The issue recently gained wide attention after peacekeepers in Democratic Republic of Congo were accused of widespread sexual exploitation.

The charges included rape, pedophilia, and buying sexual favors from children in return for food or tiny amounts of money.

But the United Nations is hampered by a lack of authority to prosecute peacekeepers. Blue-helmeted troops accused of sex crimes are usually sent home to face prosecution. But time lags and a lack of witnesses has meant that many suspected sex offenders are able to escape justice.

A new report prepared by Jordan's U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid al Hussein, calls for tough reforms. It urges the General Assembly to pass new rules requiring, among other things, that sex crimes suspects be court-martialed in the country where the alleged offense takes place.

Mr. Guehenno calls the recommendation a major step forward.

"Court martials in the country will send the right message, and I think it would be an important move for all troop contributors to agree that we should move in that direction," he said.

The U.N. report also recommends withholding salaries of peacekeepers convicted of sex abuse and using the money to help support victims and any children born to them.

The report was prepared after the United States and other countries voiced concern about the lack of accountability for peacekeepers accused of sex abuse.