French President Francois Hollande is promising tough punishment for any soldier found guilty of sexually assaulting children in Central African Republic.

Hollande, speaking to reporters Thursday in western France, said any sanctions should correspond to the gravity of the crime and "set an example."

French prosecutors and military authorities are investigating accusations of sexual abuse of children in 2013-14 by French soldiers sent to protect civilians amid sectarian violence in Central African Republic. The investigation has been underway since last year but was only made public Wednesday.

French military officials distanced themselves from the accusations Thursday, saying they had no knowledge of any sexual abuse.

France sent troops to the former colony in December 2013 and the U.N. set up a 12,000-strong peacekeeping force in September last year.