UNITED NATIONS, March 1 -- William Lacy Swing, the United Nations' top representative in the Congo, is set to resign in the wake of a sexual misconduct scandal involving U.N. peacekeepers, senior U.N. diplomats and officials said.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Swing has not formally offered his resignation "at this point" but that he will meet with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Thursday to discuss "plans for the future."
U.N. officials said that although Swing, a longtime U.S. ambassador in the region, still commands Annan's respect, he is being forced out to send a signal that senior U.N. officials will be held accountable for not cracking down on misconduct by U.N. personnel under their watch.
U.N. officials said that the timing of Swing's departure remains uncertain, and that he continues to oversee U.N. efforts to deal with the political fallout of the killing of nine Bangladeshi peacekeepers by Congolese militias last week.
But one senior U.N. diplomat confirmed that "Swing has expressed his intention to retire." Swing did not respond to telephone messages.
The move comes as the organization is facing increasing pressure from the Bush administration and Congress to hold peacekeepers and other U.N. officials accountable for sexual abuse.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the subcommittee on Africa, global human rights and international operations, held a hearing Tuesday on sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo and other U.N. peacekeeping missions. Smith has introduced legislation that would require the State Department to certify that safeguards are in place to prevent such abuse before funding for such missions is authorized.
"The continued toleration of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. leaders is severely damaging the reputation and the effectiveness of the organization," Smith said. He said that the United Nations' failure to hold perpetrators accountable "raises questions about the willingness of leadership to undertake reform, and raises questions about the ability of the U.N. to police itself."
U.N. peacekeeping missions, including those in Cambodia, Bosnia and several African countries, have been dogged by sexual abuse scandals since the early 1990s. But few U.N. peacekeepers, who are shielded from prosecution by military agreements, have faced legal action for sex crimes.
Internal U.N. reports have documented scores of cases in the Congo in which U.N. peacekeepers and bureaucrats have engaged in pedophilia, prostitution and rape, often offering food or jobs in exchange for sex. One internal U.N. report said that sexual exploitation "appears to be significant, widespread and ongoing."
Annan appointed Jordan's U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid Hussein, who once served as a U.N. peacekeeper in Bosnia, to look into abuse allegations in the Congo and to oversee a revision of the U.N. policy on misconduct by peacekeepers. He is also seeking to persuade countries that provide peacekeepers to prosecute sex abusers within their own ranks.
U.N. officials say they have been cracking down on sexual abuse.