World

French leader vows tough punishment if any soldiers found guilty of child sex abuse in Africa

  • French President Francois Hollande listens to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during a press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    French President Francois Hollande listens to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during a press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - This  Feb. 28, 2014 file image shows French President Francois Hollande, second from left, and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, left, inspecting weapons confiscated from ex-Seleka rebels and anti-Balaka militia by the French military during operation Sangaris, as they are displayed at a French military base in Bangui, Central African Republic. French prosecutors and military authorities are investigating accusations that French soldiers in Central African Republic sexually abused children they were sent to protect. (AP Photo/Sia Kambou, File, Pool)

    FILE - This Feb. 28, 2014 file image shows French President Francois Hollande, second from left, and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, left, inspecting weapons confiscated from ex-Seleka rebels and anti-Balaka militia by the French military during operation Sangaris, as they are displayed at a French military base in Bangui, Central African Republic. French prosecutors and military authorities are investigating accusations that French soldiers in Central African Republic sexually abused children they were sent to protect. (AP Photo/Sia Kambou, File, Pool)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - This April 11, 2014 file image shows French forces patrolling in Sibut, some 200kms (140 miles) northeast of Bangui, Central African Republic. French prosecutors and military authorities are investigating accusations that French soldiers in Central African Republic sexually abused children they were sent to protect. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

    FILE - This April 11, 2014 file image shows French forces patrolling in Sibut, some 200kms (140 miles) northeast of Bangui, Central African Republic. French prosecutors and military authorities are investigating accusations that French soldiers in Central African Republic sexually abused children they were sent to protect. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)  (The Associated Press)

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.