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Soldiers accused of Eritrean sex offences offered STD test

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  • Soldiers accused of Eritrean sex offences offered STD test


    IRISH peacekeepers accused of hiring prostitutes in Eritrea, including a 15 year-old girl, have been offered tests for sexually transmitted diseases as nearly one-in-four street women in the capital Asmara are HIV-positive.

    Military police investigating the allegations that Irish peacekeepers paid for sex with local women have returned home after an initial fact-finding mission.

    It now appears as if the investigation will become one of the most complex, difficult and expensive in the history of the defence forces with immense cultural, communication and access difficulties in Africa and considerable legal difficulties at home.

    The Sunday Independent has learned that the investigation could run well into next year and that the defence forces personnel at the centre of the allegations have been offered medical screening for HIV infection.

    This is part of the defence forces "no questions asked" policy in relation to sexually transmitted diseases.

    In Eritrea a recent study by the local Department of Health found that 22 percent of prostitutes are HIV-positive.

    Though there is no compulsory testing in the defence forces, the facilities for testing are readily available, a defence forces spokesman said.

    All members of the defence forces who feel they may have put themselves in a high-risk situation in relation to sexually transmitted diseases have the option of tests.

    Before travelling overseas for duties, all defence forces personnel are given an explicit information course on the risks associated with STDs. They are also issued with condoms.

    The military police and investigators who went to Eritrea have so far managed to compile a lengthy list of individuals they want to interview but no interviews have yet taken place.

    None of the allegations apply to any Irish soldier currently with the mission.

    "Now that the witness list has been compiled, it is now essential to establish some sort of local liaison including interpreters so investigating officers can speak to the women involved," an army spokesman added.

    The central allegation is that a number of local women in the Eritrean capital of Asmara claim to have accepted money from the Irish soldiers in return for sex.

    Over the past two years, Italian, Danish and Slovak peacekeepers have all been expelled in separate incidents for having sex with minors. If the allegations are proven - especially the claim that one of the "women" involved was 15 years old at the time - the seven soldiers under investigation face severe consequences up to court martial.

    None of the Irish soldiers were interviewed as part of the initial United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) investigation where the allegations were first made and none are still stationed there.

    "They have not been interviewed by Irish investigating officers either. The investigation is still at a very preliminary stage but it does look as though it will be extremely complex," the spokesman said.