ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday November 4, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 23

108 Lankan soldiers in Haiti sex scandal

By Thalif Deen at the United Nations

NEW YORK - The United Nations will try to persuade the Sri Lankan government to prosecute -- to the fullest extent of the law -- the 108 soldiers who were serving with the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (Minustah) for alleged sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of minors, including prostitution.

The charges may include rape -- which is constituted a "war crime" in the context of military conflicts -- involving children under 18 years of age. The United Nations will also seek the assistance of the government to help provide compensation -- which can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars -- to victims of the crime.

Lankan UN soldiers in Haiti

A UN source told The Sunday Times that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations would monitor what action the government proposed to take against the 108 soldiers who were part of a 950-member contingent from Sri Lanka."If they are found guilty, they should be punished for their crimes under the criminal justice system in the country," he said.

The UN would be very unhappy, he said, if only administrative and disciplinary actions were taken against the soldiers. The action taken by the government or military courts will also determine whether the UN will deploy Sri Lankan soldiers in future peacekeeping operations.

Asked how many soldiers would be repatriated, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters Friday that all 108 soldiers would be repatriated on disciplinary grounds. The total number is one of the biggest single withdrawal of soldiers from a UN peacekeeping mission.

The government, however, has taken the unilateral action for the repatriation of the Sri Lankan battalion's second in command (a Lt. Colonel) and two Company Commanders (Majors) for failure to exercise command responsibilities in accordance with military norms and standards.

Asked about the nature of the charges, Ms. Montas said the allegations were against members of the Sri Lankan battalion stationed in a variety of locations in Haiti, and were of a "transactional sex" nature. She also acknowledged that they involved prostitution, including in some cases with minors.

Asked about penalties for the soldiers, she pointed out that UN peacekeepers were under their national jurisdictions. UN Headquarters, she said, would follow up as per standard procedures.

In cooperation with the Haitian authorities, MINUSTAH, Sri Lanka and the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and of Field Services are assessing the situation and have begun discussions on ways and means to bring assistance to the victims, Ms. Montas added.

A UN statement said the United Nations and Sri Lanka "take this matter very seriously and reiterate their shared commitment to both the Secretary-General's zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse and to best practices in peacekeeping." Asked for comments, a government source in Colombo told the Sunday Times: ''The whole story is disturbing. But we have taken immediate action.''

He said an investigative group, which included Maj-Gen Mohanthi Peiris, Chief Legal Officer of the Sri Lanka Army was sent to Haiti immediately. “The alleged miscreants are being repatriated immediately. They will be charged on disciplinary grounds,” he added.Meanwhile, Rohan Abeywardene adds he has acted promptly in recalling 108 soldiers and two officers.

They were scheduled to arrive here over the weekend. A top level army team comprising two brigadiers and two colonels who had been dispatched to Haiti on October 04 no sooner the allegations were made known to the Sri Lankan government had returned after conducting preliminary investigations.

The complaint against the Lankan soldiers had been lodged by an NGO. Military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said that further action against these men would be taken once the UN Office of Internal Oversight Service (OIOS) finalised its investigations. In this regard Sri Lanka has tasked one of its Military Police officers serving there to assist the UN. Sri Lanka continues to have several hundred more soldiers serving in Haiti.

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