French soldier in Central African Republic accused of sexual abuse: U.N

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - A French soldier deployed to Central African Republic has been accused of sexually abusing a teenage girl in the latest in a series of misconduct allegations against peacekeeping forces there, the United Nations' top human rights official said. France intervened in its former colony in 2013 to stem violence between Christian militias and largely Muslim Seleka rebels that has led to the de facto partition of the country. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said U.N. staff were informed on Aug. 30 of allegations that a French soldier sexually abused a girl in her mid-to-late teens last year. She gave birth to a child in April and lodged a paternity case with local authorities. "We simply have to find ways to prevent such odious acts being committed by any soldiers anywhere who are supposed to be protecting vulnerable populations," Zeid said in a statement on Thursday during a visit to Central African Republic. He said French authorities had been informed of the latest allegation and the U.N. mission, which took over peacekeeping duties from French troops, had offered to help investigate. Public prosecutors in Paris and French justice ministry officials were not immediately available for comment. A French military spokesman said an internal investigation had been opened into the allegations. Foreign troops deployed to quell the violence in the diamond-producing country nation have repeatedly been the focus of abuse allegations this year. At least 13 French soldiers, two soldiers from Equatorial Guinea and three Chadian troops were implicated in the alleged sexual abuse of children between December 2013 and June 2014, according to a U.N. report leaked in April. French President Francois Hollande pledged to show no mercy if the allegations were confirmed. [ID:nL5N0XR3L5] "Any U.N. or other foreign military personnel found guilty must be given sentences that fit the crime," Zeid said. The U.N. mission, established in April 2014 and known as MINUSCA, has also been hit by accusations of abuse. It said last month it had received 61 allegations of misconduct, including 13 cases of possible sexual exploitation and abuse. The head of the mission, Babacar Gaye, was forced to resign last month after Amnesty International accused MINUSCA peacekeepers of abuses, including the rape of a 12-year-old girl during an operation in the capital Bangui. [ID:nL1N10N1GL] (Reporting by Joe Bavier; Additional reporting by Chine Labbe in Paris; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)