The United Nations is reporting new cases of alleged sexual abuse and exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.
The U.N. mission in the C.A.R., MINUSCA, said it has identified seven new possible victims in the town of Bambari. According to a statement Thursday, U.N. investigators believe at least five of the victims were minors.
The mission said the soldiers implicated in the cases are from the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and says that both countries' governments have been asked to launch their own investigations.
The U.N. was informed of the alleged abuse by Human Rights Watch, which said separately on Thursday that the incidents happened between October and December 2015.
The rights group quoted an 18-year-old woman and 14-year-old girl as saying that peacekeepers ambushed them, dragged them into the grass, and gang raped them near the Bambari airport. It said other females were raped or exchanged sex for food and money.
Last year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon fired the head of the 12,000-strong MINUSCA force over a mounting number of rape and sexual exploitation cases.
The latest allegations bring the number of sexual abuse cases involving U.N. peacekeepers and international troops in the Central African Republic to 33.
The head of MINUSCA, Parfair Onanga-Anyanga, traveled to Bambari Thursday and expressed renewed outrage at the troop's behavior.
"Sexual abuses and exploitation is a serious breach of the U.N. regulations and a human rights violation, a double crime that affects the vulnerable women and children you were sent here to protect," he said.
MINUSCA said due to the gravity of the allegations, 120 Republic of Congo soldiers who were deployed to Bambari between September and December will be sent home after an ongoing investigation. It said the soldiers are currently confined to barracks.
Human Rights Watch reported a total of eight new possible cases to the MINUSCA. The U.N. mission said one of the cases was previously reported and is already under investigation.