UN peacekeepers routinely pressured underage girls for sex in exchange for food and shelter in the Ivory Coast, according to explosive new information uncovered in a US Embassy cable released by WikiLeaks. Eight of 10 underage girls polled in 2009 "said they had ongoing sexual relationships with Beninese soldiers in exchange for food or lodging" in the Ivory Coast town of Toulepleu, the diplomat wrote in the January 2010 cable. A UN spokesman on Tuesday confirmed that 10 commanders and six soldiers from Benin earlier this year were repatriated to their African nation from their post in Toulepleu, and are barred from ever serving in a UN force again because of the violations.
"We see it as a command and control problem," the spokesman told AP. Commanders "failed to maintain an environment that prevents sexual exploitation and abuse," he added. It's the first time Beninese peacekeepers have been accused of sexual exploitation, but charges of sexual misconduct has been leveled against UN peacekeeping forces in the Congo, Cambodia, and Haiti, and against Moroccan troops in the Ivory Coast. "Sexual exploitation and abuse problems among UN personnel is more extensive than is recognized," a representative with Save the Children told US officials last year. (Read more United Nations stories.)