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US, UN Demand Action Against Congo Peacekeepers Charged with Sex Abuse

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard praised Morocco Monday for its decision to arrest six soldiers serving with a Congo peacekeeping unit.

The Congo's U.N. mission announced over the weekend that the soldiers had been jailed pending prosecution by courts martial.

They were among those named in an internal U.N. investigation last year that uncovered evidence that blue-helmeted peacekeepers in the Congo routinely abused women and girls as young as 13. A report documented cases in which peacekeepers lured poverty-stricken teenagers into sex by offering them eggs, milk, or tiny sums of money.

Morocco is the first to announce prosecutions of its peacekeepers in the Congo sex abuse case, and spokesman Eckhard said the U.N. mission is urging other troop-contributing nations to do the same. "The mission hopes that the vigorous and public reaction of Morocco will serve as an example and that other troop-contributing countries will follow," he said.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the Security Council last week that new policies were in place forbidding U.N. peacekeepers from what is called "fraternization" with the local population. The policy also includes a curfew for blue-helmeted soldiers in the Congo.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan urged authorities to impose tough penalties on anyone found guilty of what he called "atrocious conduct" in the Congo. "That's unacceptable and appalling what has happened in the Congo," he said.

The U.N. mission in the Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC, is among the largest U.N. peacekeeping operations. It employs more than 13,000 people, the vast majority of them soldiers, mostly from African nations.

Morocco's contribution to the force includes about 750 troops.

But the world body has no authority to discipline peacekeepers. It must rely on troop-contributing countries to take action against anyone accused of crimes.

At least two civilians working in the Congo mission were sent home last year to face charges of pedophilia. At least three other civilians are said to be facing charges in their home countries.