By Declan Walsh Nicola ByrneThe Scotsman
December 22, 2002
An Irish soldier serving as a United Nations peacekeeper in Eritrea has been caught making pornographic videos of local women and is now serving a jail sentence in Ireland, it was revealed last night.
The UN has launched an investigation into the scandal which has again plunged the organisation's peacekeeping duties into controversy. In the wake of the highly damaging revelation, the Eritrean government has condemned the activities of the Irish defence force and questioned its continued presence in the war-scarred state in the Horn of Africa.
Yesterday a government spokesman said: "These people call themselves peacekeepers, when in fact all they want is a long holiday and a chance to fool around with our women. They did not respect our country, our culture or our people."
The soldier in question returned to Ireland last month and yesterday the Irish army said he would be dismissed. An army spokesman said: "As soon as his commanding officer became aware of his behaviour he was charged with conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline."
The private has already been sentenced to 16 days' detention by an army court, and is still serving the sentence. The statement added: "He is likely to be dismissed from the force." His videos were filmed last March.
Their main â€˜star', a 22-year-old Eritrean woman believed to be a prostitute, is in custody facing obscenity charges in her home country. The tapes are understood to have been discovered when the soldier, a man in his forties and a native of the west of Ireland, showed them to friends.
The woman is believed to have worked at a brothel which opened outside the Irish â€˜green' camp in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, shortly after the Irish peacekeepers' arrival last December. She befriended the soldier at the centre of the scandal and became his girlfriend, she told police. The woman named the man and said he was a captain, although the Irish army has denied that this is the man's rank.
In an interview from her prison cell, she said the soldier had told her he was making the video for "remembrance" and would marry her and bring her to Ireland, where he said he owned a hotel. "He was telling me what to do in the films in many different ways," said the woman.
After filming, the soldier would take the woman and her friends swimming at the Intercontinental Hotel, which she considered a "great treat" as it is normally the preserve of foreigners. According to Eritrean authorities, the videos consisted of "disgusting sexual acts".
Several other women who are alleged to be prostitutes in the capital have also been arrested since the scandal emerged. Some hotels and night clubs which were popular with peacekeepers, foreigners and prostitutes have also been closed.
The multinational peacekeeping force in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) was established two years ago after a ceasefire in the two-year border war between the two countries. This is the Irish army's first time in Africa since the 1960s when it served in the Congo. The defence forces pride themselves on their peacekeeping role, which has included stints in the Lebanon and Cyprus.
In a statement, UNMEE said it considered the allegations concerning the videos very serious, and that it was conducting an investigation. "The mission has zero tolerance towards such acts, and will do its utmost to quickly and thoroughly establish the facts," it said.
"The sexual or psychological exploitation of locals by UN staff or their representatives, will never be tolerated." However, a report commissioned by the UN itself noted this year that prostitution has soared since peace was declared in Eritrea and the UN peacekeepers arrived there.
Over the past two years, Italian, Danish and Slovak peacekeepers have all been expelled in separate incidents for having sex with minors. Irish troops were issued with orders to respect local sensitivities and to abide by a strict code of conduct. A senior source within the UN in Asmara said the Irish soldier's behaviour had caused deep embarrassment.
It is the latest in a catalogue of scandals over the years, which have seen UN peacekeepers involved in murder and rape. The UN source said: "People have been told not to talk about it or discuss it. It's a very sensitive issue. But of course everybody is talking about it."
A third of adults in Eritrea are HIV positive and on their arrival in Africa, the UN forces are shown explicit videos about the effects of HIV and Aids. Peacekeepers are issued with male and female condoms and warned off visiting the numerous brothels which have mushroomed in the capital. However, with little for the troops to do in the city, the outgoing commander of the Irish camp, Lieutenant Commandant David Prendergast admitted that boredom was one of the biggest problems facing his unit. But he rejected the claim by the Eritrean government that the Irish base was a holiday camp.
"It is not that by any means," he said. "It is a major task in the management of personnel and it is difficult for the soldiers because they are away from home." Built in the art deco style by Italian colonists in the 1930s, Asmara looks more like a suburb of a European town than an African city.
Although it is poor and struggling to recover from the war, the clean streets are paved with smooth tarmac, and there is little crime. The story of the videos has consequently made front page news. Last week's edition of the Eritrean Profile newspaper, published by the government's ministry of information, also points the finger at other peacekeepers in the city and says it has evidence that they are engaged in activities similar to those of the Irish soldier currently in jail.
With friends like theseâ€¦
United Nations peacekeeping troops have been involved in a catalogue of crimes and scandals across the globe. During the UN peacekeeping mission to Somalia, it was claimed Canadian, Belgian and Italian soldiers were involved in torture and murder.
An inquiry by the Canadian government of a young Somali man in 1993, found that he had been murdered by its troops and that a senior officer had lied in an attempt to cover up the atrocity. Two soldiers were jailed.
In Belgium, newspapers published photographs of two soldiers holding a Somali boy over a fire. Three paratroopers were prosecuted, but were acquitted by a military tribunal. An Italian magazine published photographs showing soldiers from the country's elite paratroop regiment apparently torturing a naked Somali with electrodes and sexually abusing a Somali woman. Two generals who had commanded the Italian force in Somalia resigned.
In January 2000 the United Nations were sued for the first time in its history for alleged complicity in the crime of genocide which drove hundreds of thousands Rwandan Tutsis from their homes.Two Rwandan women accused the UN, which was meant to be defending their families, of handing them over to their killers or running away.
The families of these women were slaughtered during the 1994 genocide in which 800,000, mostly Tutsi people, were slaughtered by Hutus.
In Bosnia, more than 20 peacekeepers were ejected from the mission for theft and corruption. Nearly four dozen others were sent home after allegedly abusing mental patients at a hospital. Canadian peacekeepers were accused of rape, beatings and sexual abuse of a teenage handicapped girl.
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