The United Nations said Thursday it is looking into allegations that U.N. peacekeepers in Congo have been paying women for sex.

U.N. officials said in a statement that they had received reports of a prostitution ring involving minors operating outside military bases in South Kivu province. Some of the prostitutes reported that U.N. staff were among their clients, the statement said.

CountryWatch: Congo (DRC)

The peacekeeping force "takes these allegations very seriously and has expressed extreme shock at the testimonies of the victims of this illegal activity," the statement said.

The U.N. has said it has a zero-tolerance policy regarding prostitution, instituted last year after an investigation found that peacekeepers in Congo had sex with women and girls, usually in exchange for food or small sums of money.

The statement made no mention of the nationalities of the U.N. staff allegedly involved.

Past cases of sexual abuse have also been reported in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia, East Timor and West Africa.

The U.N. has 17,000 peacekeepers in Congo.