Starving, homeless young boys in the Central African Republic were made to perform sex acts on French soldiers in return for food or money, the director of an advocacy group announced on Thursday, citing a yet to be released United Nations report on the alleged abuses.
Paula Donovan, director of AIDS-Free World, said the report detailed testimony from six children interviewed last year by staff from UNICEF and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The children give vivid accounts of their own experiences as well as abuses they had witnessed.
"There are a few cases where a boy describes the sodomizing of a friend by soldiers who are threatening to beat him if he tells anyone about what they are doing," Donovan said.
The allegations are against French soldiers deployed to the Central African Republic. The troops were there as peacekeepers.
The abuses were committed against approximately a dozen children at a displaced persons' camp at M'Poko International Airport in Bangui, the capital city, between December 2013 and June 2014.
The deeply disturbing allegations have prompted French President Francois Hollande to promise strong action if they are verified.
"If some soldiers behaved badly, I will be merciless," he said in comments broadcast by CNN's French affiliate BFMTV.
"If this information is confirmed, there will be exemplary sanctions."
Donovan said the soldiers gave the children small amounts of food, water and sometimes some cash in return for sex, adding, "The children were severely traumatized by the events."
The report was sent to her in recent days, Donovan said, but she was would not disclose by whom. The advocacy group then shared it with the UK's Guardian newspaper, which reported on the allegations late Wednesday, claiming the report had "confidential" stamped on every page.
French authorities were aware of the document and its allegations late last year.
A U.N. official has been suspended over the leak, a statement from the spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday.
The staffer in question is also accused of giving an unedited version of the internal U.N. report to French authorities before it reached senior management in the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.