Mixed-race Babies Support ICoast Sex Abuse Claims

by VR Sreeraman on Aug 8 2007 3:07 PM

Mixed-race Babies Support ICoast Sex Abuse Claims
As Moroccan peacekeepers are confined to their barracks in northern Ivory Coast pending a UN probe into sex abuse claims, proof is emerging that soldiers breached the code of conduct.
A full investigation has been launched both in Ivory Coast and at United Nations headquarters into the allegations centering on a 732-strong Moroccan contingent based in Bouake, the capital of the rebel zone of the country, split in half since a 2002 rebellion.

As a joint Moroccan and UN team investigates the affair, there is increasing evidence that soldiers had sex with local women, and according to some reports, even with girls aged less than 14.

"There was an internal investigation which proved the facts, but we are awaiting the results of the full investigation led by our internal affairs services, which will confirm the facts," UN spokeswoman Margarita Amodeo told AFP.

"There are minors among the victims concerned," she said.

The UN -- after turning a blind eye for decades to cases of sexual abuse by their troops -- recommended in 2005 that erring soldiers be punished, their salaries frozen and a fund established to aid any women or girls made pregnant. But this proposal was not accepted by member nations.

Meanwhile in Bouake there is living proof that some Moroccan peacekeepers strayed.

A case in point is 17-month-old Felicite Hayat who has inherited her mother's African features and her father's pale skin and brown curly hair.

Her birth certificate, carefully wrapped in plastic, names her Ivorian mother but states that her father is unknown.

Her mother, speaking to AFP under the assumed name of Judith, said she had a photograph of the father -- which she had passed on to the investigators.

A UN official said there was no confusion.

"It's a clear and proven case," the official said. "We have the name of the father."

Judith said she was the man's mistress for six months after catching his eye when the Moroccan troops were passing through the city centre.

"I was sitting in a downtown area," she told AFP. "He passed in his car, saw me and stopped ... I was 19. He had money and I didn't," she said.

The soldier rented a room for her in the Bouake quarter of Trainou, near the Moroccan camp.

"He spent all his nights with me," she said. "He said he loved me and I too fell in love with him. When he was there, he gave me all that I wanted.

"After he left, I cried. And I was miserable once again."

Two weeks after his departure, Judith became aware of her pregnancy. The soldier had left her a cellphone but didn't call her after he left. And she then sold it to pay off a debt.

"He has a wife in Morocco. Maybe he is afraid," she said.

Judith gave her bubbly daughter an Arabic middle name in memory of her father.

"She's called Hayat -- it means life in Arabic," she said.

Judith said she was over with love.

"I'm not complaining. I have my daughter," she said. "But bearing a foreigner a child, never again. I've suffered too much."

But she and her best friend Priscilla, 24, have now been fingered for prostitution.

The pair, along with some other local women, have set up base near a Moroccan camp.

Priscilla admitted with a radiant smile that they "had come here for the Moroccans," adding that she had two "sweethearts" -- a Moroccan peacekeeper and a French soldier.

A diplomat told AFP that initial UN investigations at the beginning of July had revealed "widespread sexual abuse backed up with proofs and photographs."

The case has proved embarrassing to the UN, Ivory Coast and Morocco, especially as the Moroccan contingent is considered by military experts to be the best in the United Nations operation in the West African country.

Some 8,000 UN peacekeepers are stationed in Ivory Coast, a one-time regional beacon of stability and economic strength. They are backed by more than 3,000 French troops.


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