(MSNBC) - Sri Lanka is sending home 108 of its soldiers in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti after a preliminary investigation found that they paid for prostitutes, including some that might be underage, the United Nations said Friday.
U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said the peacekeeping mission "received allegations of incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse by members" of the Sri Lankan battalion stationed in a number of locations in Haiti. The U.N. Mission in Haiti requested an immediate investigation by the U.N. internal watchdog, the Office of Internal Oversight Services, known as OIOS, she said.
The revelations mark another blow for the world body's peacekeeping mission which has faced similar allegations before.
In 2004, peacekeepers in Congo were accused of the sexual exploitation of girls as young as 13, further embarrassing the world body at a time when some key member states were stepping up criticism of the U.N. and pressing for greater reforms. U.N. peacekeepers in Liberia and Ivory Coast have faced accusations of sexual abuse.
Montas said Sri Lanka also dispatched a high-level national investigative team from Colombo, including a female investigative officer, she said.
"Following receipt of the preliminary OIOS report and with the cooperation of the Sri Lankan authorities, all accused Sri Lankan Battalion members will be repatriated on disciplinary grounds on Saturday, Nov. 3," she said.
U.N.: Zero tolerance on sex exploitation
Montas said 108 soldiers in the 950-strong battalion will be repatriated, all for apparently engaging prostitutes. "There is a question of some underage girls," she said. Sri Lanka has also unilaterally decided to repatriate the battalion second in command and two company commanders, she said.
"The United Nations has been in close consultation with the Sri Lankan authorities at high levels, and will continue to provide all possible assistance to the government of Sri Lanka as it undertakes appropriate disciplinary measures to address this serious issue at the national level," Montas said.
U.N. officials have repeatedly said they have a zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation. Peacekeepers are also bound by a non-fraternization policy and undergo specialized training on sexual exploitation.
"The United Nations and Sri Lanka take this matter very seriously and reiterate their shared commitment to both the secretary-general's zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse and to best practices in peacekeeping," Montas said.