Peacekeeper guilty of child sex?

2001-08-25 19:19

Asmara - The United Nations is investigating claims that an Italian member of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) was involved in a child prostitution racket, an official told AFP.

"These are obviously very serious allegations and we are looking into the matter," UNMEE spokesperson Jean Victor Nkolo told AFP late on Friday.

According to Italian newspaper reports, an Italian member of UNMEE is being investigated for allegedly sexually abusing under-age girls.

Military magistrate Maurizio Block, in the northern Italian city of Padova, said that according to allegations presented by an Italian military policeman previously stationed in Asmara, the girls were aged between 10 and 15.

Slovak and Danish troops were also reportededly involved in the case.

"This will be very thoroughly investigated. But what form our investigation will take remains to be seen," Nkolo said.

"We've got to have some facts. So far, what we have are statements made by one soldier."

The girls' families were allegedly paid a few dollars for sexual services provided in hotels in the Eritrean capital Asmara and the town of Massawa.

At the Italian contingent's office here, officers of the Italian police corps denied any knowledge of the allegations.

"I've been here four months and I've never known anything like this to happen," said Lieutenant David Ellero, chief of the Italian military police unit.

"You have prostitution here as you have in other places around the world. But paedophile prostitution rings - I find that very hard to believe," Ellero said.

"I don't know anything about this. But if there have been crimes committed, I hope whoever is involved will be prosecuted."

The Italian under investigation, who reportedly joined the UN mission as a military officer of the Italian Red Cross, is said to be presently stationed in Tuscany.

The Italian contingent of UNMEE comprises 166 troops. There are about 3 600 UN peacekeepers overseeing a peace accord signed by Eritrea and Ethiopia last December after a two-year border war. - AFP