PARIS (AP) — France has suspended five members of the military for violence during their deployment in Central African Republic against citizens they were sent to protect, the Defense Ministry announced Saturday. The five risk being booted from the army.
The revelation of violence, the nature of which was unclear, follows allegations this year of sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic by French soldiers in an operation to help stabilize the African nation, which was convulsed by sectarian violence.
French Army spokesman Col. Yann Gravethe said the violence against two people— which occurred early in 2014 in Bangui, capital of Central African Republic — was not linked to the allegations of sexual abuse, which are still under investigation. However, he said the acts were “counter to the values of the French army” and the sanctions match “the gravity of the acts.”
Army authorities also were convening an investigative council, a step that can lead to dismissal from the army, the Defense Ministry said.
Judicial authorities are also investigating the matter.
Among those suspended were higher-ups of those who committed the violence and were present but failed to stop the acts, the ministry statement said. Also among the five was the soldiers’ commander, Gravethe said.
Four others who were aware of the acts but failed to report them were handed disciplinary sanctions, the Defense Ministry said. According to the statement, the army chief of staff was informed of the violence at least two years after the acts.
The violence occurred shortly after the start of France’s Operation Sangaris in December 2013. France, which has long had a military presence in its former colony, began increasing troop levels then 2013 after sectarian violence erupted.
The operation is credited with saving countless lives, but the mission was tarnished by allegations of sexual abuse against children. French judicial authorities opened a probe last month of U.N. allegations of sexual abuse from 2013-2015 in the central town of Dekoa, the latest in a string of allegations involving peacekeepers and troops from France’s mission.
President Francois Hollande announced the official end of the operation during a visit to Bangui last month.