The United Nations has denied allegations it covered up child abuse by French troops in the Central African Republic, calling them “offensive”.
A high-ranking UN employee has been suspended on suspicion of leaking an internal report on the allegations.
A UN spokesman said the report had not been made public in order to protect the identity of victims, witnesses and investigators.
The report alleged soldiers assaulted hungry children in exchange for food.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said publication of the internal report risked making some of those named in it “extremely vulnerable to reprisals”, the AFP news agency reports.
He said it was “frankly offensive and highly unlikely” that Mr Hussein would be involved in a cover up, pointing out that he had commissioned the report and was the author of the 2005 Zeid Report, which he called “the definitive UN report on sexual abuse in peacekeeping operations”.
“The allegations of what happened to these children are abhorrent. The details obtained in interviews with alleged victims and witnesses by UN investigators… are utterly odious,” Mr Colville said.
But he said the leak was a “possible breach of strict rules that exist to protect victims, witnesses and investigators”.
France – whose troops were among those accused of committing abuses – was alerted by the UN in July 2014 and opened an investigation, the French defence ministry said.
AFP reports that 14 French peacekeeping soldiers – deployed to CAR help restore order after after a 2013 coup – are implicated by the report.
“If some soldiers have behaved badly, I will show no mercy,” French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday.
Soldiers from Chad and Equatorial Guinea have also been implicated in abuses, but neither country has responded publicly to the accusations.
According to the report, children as young as nine were forced to carry out sex acts in return for food.
Anders Kompass, the Swedish employee accused of leaking the report, has been suspended on full pay while an investigation takes place.
France intervened in its former colony in December 2013, nine months after a rebel alliance, Seleka, captured the capital and ousted President Francois Bozize.
The country descended into ethnic and sectarian violence, with thousands of people fleeing their homes and the UN warning that there was a high risk of genocide.
The UN took over and expanded the African peacekeeping mission in September 2014.