U.N. officials say new allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers and civilian personnel in Sudan are being investigated.  The allegations stem from an article in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper that claims hundreds of children as young as 12 may have been sexually abused by U.N. personnel in southern Sudan. The newspaper says its report is based on an internal UNICEF report and interviews with about two dozen victims in the town of Juba. VOA Correspondent Barbara Schoetzau has the details.  

The allegations surfaced just as new Secretary General Ban Ki-moon finished his first day on the job. His spokeswoman, Michele Montas, expressed deep concern over the issue.
"The U.N. standard on this issue is clear: zero tolerance, meaning zero complacency and zero impunity," she said. "In cooperation with the U.N. Mission in Sudan, we are looking into the substance of the press reports to determine if the allegations are new or are existing cases already under investigation. It is the U.N.'s policy to treat credible allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse as serious offenses to be investigated by the office of internal oversight services and OIOS has a team permanently based in Sudan which investigates all allegations of abuse."

Some 11,000 peacekeepers from 70 nations are serving in the area to monitor a fragile ceasefire in southern Sudan. The United Nations can discipline U.N. personnel but has little authority over foreign peacekeepers other than to send them home. Montas says four peacekeepers have been repatriated in the last year. She says the presence of a full-time person in Sudan to investigate sexual abuse allegations is a sign of how seriously the United Nations takes the charges.

"The U.N. is very concerned about this issue and has over and over again repeated its determination to end sexual abuses by U.N. peacekeepers," Montas said. "I think in the case of Sudan the fact that they have a full-time person there, I think, is an indication, more than the amount or the number of cases, I think is an indication of the determination to end this practice."

The Daily Telegraph article also reported that Sudan's government may have gathered evidence of abuse, including video footage. Montas says the UNICEF report cited in the Daily Telegraph article refers to abuses by the Sudanese military, not U.N. peacekeepers.