The Central African Republic will press legal action against the French soldiers on duty as UN peacemakers who raped children at refugee camps in exchange for food.

The country's Justice Minister, Aristide Sokambi, made the announcement on Wednesday (6 May): "Legal action will be pursued... These are still very serious acts."

Sokambi clarified the legal action is aimed at punishing the crime and individual soldiers and is in no way a means of targeting France.

"We regret the fact we were not brought into these investigations despite the cooperation agreements we have with France," said Sokambi, reported AFP News.

"So I have instructed the public prosecutor to open a probe and seek the evidence already at the disposal of the French."

According to a leaked UN internal report, titled Sexual Abuse on Children by International Armed Forces, young boys, some of whom were orphans, without food and shelter were forced into rape and sodomy by French UN peacekeepers in exchange for food and money.

In one reported case mentioned in the report, children as young as nine at a camp for internally displaced people were sexually abused in the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui, in 2014.

Meanwhile, French president François Hollande vowed on 30 April tough punishment against any soldiers found guilty.

"If some soldiers have behaved badly, I will show no mercy," said Hollande during a visit to Brest, north-west France.

Paula Donovan, co-director of the Aids Free World – the advocacy group that had access to the internal report – had earlier called on an independent inquiry into how the UN handled the sexual abuse accusations, reported the Guardian.

"The regular sex abuse by peacekeeping personnel uncovered here and the United Nations' appalling disregard for victims are stomach-turning, but the awful truth is that this isn't uncommon," said Donovan.

"The UN's instinctive response to sexual violence in its ranks – ignore, deny, cover up, dissemble – must be subjected to a truly independent commission of inquiry with total access, top to bottom, and full subpoena power."