With Indian peacekeepers in Congo facing allegations of sexual exploitation and child abuse, Defence Minister AK Antony on Wednesday ordered a thorough investigation into the charges.
Antony's direction to the army came in the wake of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon demanding severe
"disciplinary action" against the Indian troops charged by a UN probe of sexually exploiting local women and children in Congo.
Giving reference to Ban Ki-moon's strong comments to the media at UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday, Antony said: "I would like that the allegations are promptly and thoroughly investigated in a time-bound manner."
This is the fourth such "misconduct" by Indian peace-keepers in Congo that are under probe since January this year.
The UN indictment of Indian troops in the current episode of sexual abuse surfaced in a probe report from its Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which had revealed "prima-facie evidence" against a number of Indian peace-keepers previously assigned to one of the units with the UN Mission in Congo.
The beleaguered troops had been withdrawn and sent back to India following the sexual abuse allegations from a local non-governmental organisation in Congo, according to army sources.
Though the Indian Army was hesitant to share information on the OIOS probe report, stating it was still awaiting it, it has come to light that the troops belonged to a unit under a Brigade assigned security duties at Goma district of Congo.
Ban Ki-moon, in a UN statement, was quoted to have said he was deeply troubled by the outcome of the OIOS probe.
He said that such behaviour, if substantiated, is wholly unacceptable and that disciplinary action to the maximum degree permitted by Indian law should be taken as soon as possible against those found to be involved in such misconduct, a statement released by Ban's spokesperson on Tuesday said.
He said the Indian government had assured the UN that the allegations into conduct by peacekeepers for the mission, known as MONUC, would be promptly and thoroughly investigated and, if proven, strict and exemplary action would be taken as per the law.
Stressing that he highly valued India's long-standing and valuable support for UN peacekeeping, the Secretary-General expressed his respect for all those peacekeepers from India and other troop-contributing countries who served with honour and commitment.
He added that the misconduct of a few should not diminish the enormous contribution and sacrifice of the large number of soldiers under UN who serve the cause of peace.
The UN has imposed a zero-tolerance policy against sexual abuse and exploitation by its peacekeepers, and senior officials have stressed in recent years that this means there is no impunity for those who engage in such practices.
MONUC, which was established in late 1999, is one of the largest UN peacekeeping missions in the world and India has a Brigade-size contribution to the multi-national forces which is serving there at present.
The Army was earlier rocked by charges of gold smuggling by its peace-keepers in Congo in July last year in which three personnel, including a Lt Colonel were accused.
But an OIOS probe had found the allegations could not be substantiated. However, it did indict three Indian troopers - Lt Col Talum Dubi, Sub Deepak Singh Nayal and Havildar Suresh Pandurang Bodhak - for "illegally detaining" a local, who had sold fake gold dust to them.
The army's internal probe into the charges had be completed and a formal decision on the punishment to be awarded to them for the "misconduct" is awaited.
Another probe too is underway against Col Chand Saroha, who was commanding an Indian Battalion in Congo, for his "support" to rebel forces there.
While the third probe was against three officers from the Indian contingent in Congo, who were charged with rape by a woman, while they were in South Africa en route to India for a holiday. However, the charges were later withdrawn against them in South Africa, after the woman withdrew her complaint.
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