CAR children UN mission
Children look at a soldier taking part in the EUFOR-RCA European Union military operation in the Central African Republic, patrolling along a street in BanguiReuters/Emmanuel Braun

France has opened an investigation into alleged child abuse by its troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) during the French military operation in the country.

Paris prosecutors said on 7 May that a judicial investigation targeting unnamed people had been opened.

The prosecutors' office said in a statement it had decided to open the investigation after written consultation with the author of a United Nations report, which first raised the allegations.

A preliminary investigation was opened in July 2014 based on the United Nations report detailing the alleged abuse between December 2013 and June 2014 at a centre for displaced people at M'Poko airport in the capital Bangui.

14 soldiers are suspected but "very few" have been identified, according to French judicial sources.

On 30 April, French president François Hollande vowed to show no mercy. Speaking to reporters, Hollande promised tough punishment for any soldier found guilty of sexually assaulting children in the Bangui centre.

Hollande said any sanctions should correspond to the gravity of the crime and "set an example".

"If some soldiers have behaved badly, I will show no mercy," he told reporters.

A UN 'cover-up'

The leaked UN internal report obtained by advocacy group Aid-free World revealed that between 10 and 12 boys, aged eight to 15 and lacking food and shelter, were forced into rape and sodomy by UN peacekeepers from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea, in exchange for food and money.

The head of Aids-free World accused the UN of attempting to "cover-up" its findings.

"You can say it was a UN cover-up," Paula Donovan, co-director of the AIDS-Free World, told IBTimes UK on 1 May.

"The UN's disturbingly self-defensive instincts are all about how can we protect the bureaucracy, not how can we protect and treat the victims and prevent any instance of future abuse in these particular locations or in any other locations around the world."

Central African Republic left in the dark about abuse

Meanwhile, CAR announced on 6 May it was also taking legal action against French soldiers on duty as UN peacemakers who allegedly raped children at refugee camps in exchange for food.

CAR officials say neither France nor the UN, which had compiled a report on the charges, told the CAR authorities about them.

CAR Justice Minister Aristide Sokambi told the AFP news agency: "Legal action will be taken... these are very serious actions."

The allegations concerned individual soldiers and not France or its Sangaris operation, Sokambi said.

However, he "deplore[d] the fact that we have not been associated with these investigations even though we a cooperation agreement with France".