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India Assures UN It Will Punish Errant Peacekeepers

By Steve Herman

New Delhi

13 August 2008

India is assuring the United Nations that it will severely punish peacekeepers found to have engaged in sexual abuse while serving in Africa. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi on reaction there to a U.N. investigation raising concerns about the behavior of the Indian troops deployed as so-called "blue helmets."

India's army says it is conducting a fresh inquiry into the behavior of troops deployed as United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Officials here say any soldier found to have engaged in sexual or child abuse will be severely reprimanded.

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, in a harshly worded statement, has called for India to take maximum disciplinary action against any soldier involved in such misconduct.

The world body has not made details of its investigation public but media reports say the U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight Services uncovered abuse of young children by at least 100 Indian peacekeepers during a period of several years.

The U.N. says India's government has assured it that the allegations will be "promptly and thoroughly investigated and, if proven, strict and exemplary action would be taken."

Retired Major General Dipankar Banerjee, now director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, says some Indian soldiers may have become caught up in the social anarchy prevailing there at the time. He says Indians are not the only ones who have committed such violations while wearing the U.N. blue helmets.

"In a whole range of African countries where there are factional fightings, there are paramilitaries operating all over and serious violations of human rights by everybody, the U.N. peacekeepers have also been tempted and fallen prey to this utterly unacceptable standard of behavior," he said.

Indian and Pakistani peacekeepers have also been accused of trafficking in gold for guns in Congo.

India, along with neighbors Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, is among the top contributors in terms of troops to U.N. peacekeeping operations.

The head of the United Service Institution of India, retired Lt. General Satish Nambikar, commanded a U.N. peacekeeping operation in the former Yugoslavia with 28,000 blue helmets under his command. He tells VOA News such illegal behavior is rare.

"I certainly can speak for the Indian Army with my just under 40 years in uniform," he said. "When you have such large numbers deployed in such circumstances, not that I'm condoning it, but they're really aberrations. One must take note of it and make sure that they're severely dealt with."

Both retired generals agree that India's military establishment will severely punish those involved as demanded by the U.N. secretary general.

India has participated in U.N. peacekeeping operations for more than a half century and has lost nearly 100 soldiers and officers.

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