France investigates alleged child abuse by its troops in Central Africa

A French prosecutor is carrying out a preliminary investigation into allegations of child abuse by French soldiers stationed in Central African Republic, a Justice Ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.

Responding to a report in British daily the Guardian that a senior U.N. aid worker had been suspended after disclosing to prosecutors an internal report on the sexual abuse of children by French troops, the spokesman said:

"A preliminary investigation has been opened by the Paris prosecutor since July 31, 2014. The investigation is ongoing," he said declining to give further details.

A French judicial source said the prosecutor's office had received the U.N. report in July 2014 and was investigating if there had been abuse of minors.

The source said investigators had asked for assistance from Central African authorities. There was no immediate comment from the United Nations. An adviser to the Central African Republic president declined to comment.

Citing sources close to the matter and a U.N. internal report leaked to it by advocacy group Aids Free World, the Guardian said a Geneva-based official had been suspended by the United Nations after handing the report to French authorities.

The Guardian said the report - entitled "Sexual Abuse on Children by International Armed Forces" - outlined details of rape and sodomy of young boys by French troops who work alongside the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country.

The alleged abuse took place between December 2013 and June 2014 at a centre for internally displaced people at M'Poko airport in the capital Bangui, the Guardian said.

France intervened in its former colony more than two years ago to stem violence between Christian militias and largely Muslim Seleka rebels, who took power. It started withdrawing some of its 2,000 troops earlier this year handing over operations to U.N. peacekeepers.