updated 1/6/2007 4:41:15 AM ET 2007-01-06T09:41:15

The United Nations has investigated more than 300 members of U.N. peacekeeping missions for alleged sexual exploitation and abuse during the past three years and more than half were fired or sent home, according to a senior U.N. official.

The announcement came as the United Nations was trying to determine whether a report in a British newspaper involved new allegations or ones the United Nations had investigated or was investigating. The Daily Telegraph report alleged U.N. personnel in southern Sudan were involved in sexual exploitation and abuse of more than 20 children.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jane Holl Lute said Friday that the United Nations has done more in the last two years than ever before to try to combat sex abuse in its 16 peacekeeping missions “but we’re not satisfied with where we are.”

With nearly 200,000 people from more than 100 countries rotating through the peacekeeping missions every year, some people “are going to behave badly,” she told a news conference. “What’s different now is ... our determination to stay with this problem ... and constantly improve our ability to deal with it.”

Between January 2004 and the end of November 2006, Lute said, the United Nations investigated allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving 319 peacekeeping personnel “in all missions” — from East Timor, the Middle East and Africa to Kosovo and Haiti.

This resulted in the summary dismissal of 18 civilians and the repatriation of 17 international police and 144 military personnel, she said.

According to the Department of Peacekeeping, during the first 10 months of 2006, 63 percent of all misconduct allegations involving peacekeeping personnel were related to sexual exploitation and abuse, a third of them to prostitution.

Into the spotlight
While allegations of abuse have dogged peacekeeping missions since their inception more than 50 years ago, the issue was thrust into the spotlight after the United Nations found in early 2005 that peacekeepers in Congo had sex with Congolese women and girls, usually in exchange for food or small sums of money.

Jordan’s U.N. Ambassador Prince Zeid al Hussein wrote a report several months later that described the U.N. military arm as deeply flawed and recommended withholding the salaries of the guilty and requiring nations to pursue legal action against perpetrators. It said abuses had been reported in missions ranging from Bosnia and Kosovo to Cambodia, East Timor, West Africa and Congo.

The U.N. peacekeeping department instituted a new code of conduct for peacekeepers and new training for officers and all U.N. personnel, and it reinforced messages of “zero tolerance” for sexual abuse.

A new anti-prostitution campaign is about to start “to target what has been a troubling pathway for sexual exploitation and abuse in the missions,” Lute said.

Southern Sudan at center of probe
Meanwhile, the Department of Peacekeeping corrected information it supplied Thursday that four U.N. peacekeepers from Bangladesh have been sent home and 13 other peacekeepers serving in southern Sudan are under investigation for alleged serious misconduct including sexual exploitation and abuse.

According to the department, there are currently 13 sexual exploitation and abuse cases under investigation by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services in Sudan (OIOS), half in southern Sudan.

These cases include an investigation into an allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse in June 2006 against a Bangladeshi peacekeeper in southern Sudan. While the OIOS investigation is continuing, the department said the peacekeeper was sent home and dismissed from the army.

In addition, three Bangladeshi guards on duty when the alleged incident took place and two officers were repatriated for poor supervision or poor command. The Bangladeshi army dismissed one guard, lowered the rank of the two others, and severely reprimanded the two officers, the Peacekeeping Department said.

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