The South African army has announced the recall of nearly a dozen peacekeepers suspected of running a system of mass prostitution outside their base in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) announced the arrest of eight South African peacekeepers stationed in the eastern town of Beni on charges of “systematic and widespread violation” of UN laws prohibiting sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as the suspension of one officer.
“In view of the seriousness of the accusations”, the South African army announced that it had “decided to recall the soldiers to South Africa to respond”, adding that investigators had been sent to the DRC to look into the matter.
According to internal Monusco documents, the arrested peacekeepers are accused of being involved in a system of “brothels” and “makeshift bars that have sprung up in front of the Monusco base in Mavivi”, near Beni, used for prostitution.
According to a preliminary report, the officer in question “intimidated and verbally threatened” members of the UN after peacekeepers were arrested for visiting brothels, leading to an attempted escape, a fight, and a chase with UN military police.
According to the UN Secretary-General’s spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, Monusco got information that the soldiers in question “were meeting after curfew in a bar outside the boundaries (of the base) known to be a place of prostitution.”
UN police officers “were physically attacked and threatened by members of the South African contingent” when they arrived to arrest the accused, he claimed.
Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi has called for SADC countries, including South Africa, to deploy in the DRC to support the Congolese army in the face of the M23 insurgency, which has captured significant swaths of the country’s east.
The DRC government is also seeking for a “accelerated” withdrawal of the UN troops beginning in December, accusing it of failing to halt armed group violence after 25 years on the ground.