Central African Republic
Displaced children sit outside the main mosque on April 5, 2014 in Bangui, Central African RepublicGetty Images

French president François Hollande has vowed to show no mercy over allegations that French soldiers sexually abused children during a peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR).

A leaked United Nations internal report obtained by the Guardian revealed about 10 boys, aged eight to 15, some them orphans, without food and shelter, were forced into rape and sodomy by French UN peacekeepers, in exchange for food and money, at a centre for internally displaced people in the capital Bangui.

Speaking to reporters, Hollande promised tough punishment for any soldier found guilty of sexually assaulting children in the Bangui centre between December 2013 and June 2014.

Hollande said on Thursday (30 April) 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 during a visit to Brest, north-west France.

Up to 16 French soldiers investigated

The French authorities have launched an investigation into the allegations, and a French judicial source has told Reuters that a number of French soldiers accused of the abuse had been identified.

The French government "was made aware at the end of July 2014 by the UN's high commissioner for human rights of accusations by children that they had been sexually abused by French soldiers," the defence ministry said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

Le Monde reported that up to 16 soldiers were alleged to have committed abuse.

They could face a military trial and will also be heard by a criminal-court judge for their alleged participation in the abuse during the CAR peacekeeping mission, dubbed 'Sangaris'.