UPDATE: As at 19/04/17. French prosecutors have requested a one-year suspended prison sentence in addition to a six-month prison term against the soldier accused of 'child sex abuse'.
Prosecutors also asked the court to order the soldier to take a compulsory counselling to address psychological and alcohol addition issues.
A French soldier charged with sexually molesting two young girls while he was serving in Burkina Faso in 2015 is due to go on trial today (18 April) at a criminal court in Paris.
The alleged child abuser and one of his colleagues were part of a 220-strong contingent France deployed to Burkina Faso as part of a counter-terrorism operation codenamed Barkhane, launched in 2014 in the wake of the 2013 military intervention in Mali.
The 40-year-old soldier – named as Sebastien L – is accused of sexual touching two Franco-Burkinabe girls, aged three and five years, on 28 June 2015 in a hotel pool in the capital Ouagadougou. It is reported that he and a fellow soldier befriended a French woman who had taken the girls swimming.
The soldier is also being sued for recording pornographic images, as he allegedly filmed himself touching one of the girls underwater. The children's mother found the footage on a GoPro camera that the soldier left behind.
The two soldiers were immediately suspended and repatriated to France in the following days, with the agreement of the Burkinabe authorities.
The father of one of the victims, Ben Ouédraogo, condemned the fact that Sebastien L had been flown back to France as soon as the accusations were made in July 2015. "This means that as long as you're a French soldier abroad, you can (do) anything you want. Why are we not trying him here (in Burkina Faso)?", told AFP news agency at the time.
The serviceman, who previously admitted inappropriate contact with the little girls, faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if found convicted with the charges. The second soldier was cleared of the allegations.
These reports of paedophilia carry a heavy blow to the reputation of the French army in Africa, which has already been tarnished by similar cases in Central African Republic (CAR) – where some 14 French soldiers with peacekeeping forces are accused of engaging in child abuse.
Speaking of the gravity of the crimes, French President Francois Hollande vowed punishment for any child rapes committed by soldiers, but insisted no link should be drawn between the two separate cases.
In March, French prosecutors called for the case against soldiers accused of child sexual abuse in the CAR to be dropped, saying the evidence was unreliable.
In one of the most degrading accounts collected by the Minusca (UN's peacekeeping mission in CAR) Human Rights Officer, three victims claim they and a fourth girl were "tied up and undressed inside a camp by a military commander from the Sangaris force (the French military intervention in CAR) and forced to have sex with a dog". Each girl was then given 5,000 Central African Francs ($8.6, £6).