ABIDJAN, Cote d'Ivoire (Reuters) -- The United Nations said on Saturday it had suspended a Moroccan military contingent from its peacekeeping mission in Cote d'Ivoire while it investigated allegations of widespread sexual abuse.
Moroccan U.N. peacekeepers stop a bus near Bouake, Cote d'Ivoire, in March.
"It means they don't participate in our operations," said Hamadoun Toure, spokesman for the U.N. mission in Cote d'Ivoire (ONUCI). "Those who are found guilty will be sent back home."
The world body said the measure was in addition to a decision to confine the entire battalion of 734 soldiers to barracks.
U.N. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Friday the investigation involved Moroccan soldiers having sex with a large number of underage girls in the West African country's northern rebel stronghold of Bouake.
Toure said the allegations had come to light after the mission ran a campaign against sexual exploitation in which it asked local people to inform it about abuses. It then sent a team to carry out interviews and gather information.
The Cote d'Ivoire mission numbers just over 9,000 uniformed personnel from more than 40 countries. Moroccans make up the bulk of the force in Bouake with some Bangladeshi police, Pakistani engineers and Ghanaian medical personnel.
The peacekeepers, backed by troops from former colonial power France, are in the world's top cocoa grower to support a peace process that was revived in March by an agreement between President Laurent Gbagbo and rebel leader Guillaume Soro. E-mail to a friend
Copyright 2007 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.