Int'l court to investigate 3-6 Ivory Coast figures

October 19, 2011 - 2:11 AM
Ivory Coast

International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, left, is greeted by Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Saturday Oct. 15, 2011. Moreno-Ocampo is in Ivory Coast to investigate acts of violence during the West African nation's six-month-long political standoff. The court earlier this month authorized an investigation into violence that left thousands dead after a disputed presidential election last year.(AP Photo/ Emanuel Ekra)

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — The International Criminal Court will investigate three to six people in Ivory Coast for their actions during the West African nation's six-month-long political crisis, the court's top prosecutor said.

"We will focus on the most egregious and the most responsible," Luis Moreno-Ocampo said late Saturday during his weekend visit to Ivory Coast as part of the court's recently opened investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He said national authorities should investigate other suspects.

He said the public will not know the names of the international court's suspects until he collects evidence and the judges review it.

"I don't know (who they are) yet," he said.

Earlier this month the court's judges authorized the prosecutor to investigate violence committed after November 2010.

On Saturday, Moreno-Ocampo said the probe may look at violence committed as early as 2002.

"Today people volunteered to provide us with more information," he said. "The judges are requesting more information and we will provide it."

Human rights groups have called on the court to probe violence committed before the elections, when the nation was plunged into civil war, then underwent a de facto split along north-south lines.

Former president Laurent Gbagbo failed to hold elections when his first term ended in 2005. After a poll last November, he refused to accept his electoral defeat. Thousands died during the five-month political standoff that followed.

Moreno-Ocampo did not meet Gbagbo during this visit, but said: "We will probably request through his lawyers to interview him."

French and U.N. forces assisted the forces loyal to President Alassane Ouattara who removed Gbagbo from power in April. Ouattara finally took office in May.

Ouattara asked the international court to investigate crimes committed by both sides during the postelection crisis.

During his weekend visit Moreno-Ocampo met with Ouattara, with Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, with victims, members of the opposition and with the president of the newly formed reconciliation commission.

The commission, the prosecutor said, can address victims' needs immediately, unlike the court.

"For those who were raped, who lost their homes, they need assistance now," he said. "They don't need to wait for a judge's decision."

Human Rights Watch says over a dozen people on both sides, including Gbagbo, led fighters to commit war crimes and likely crimes against humanity during the postelection violence.

Gbagbo's spokesman Kone Katinan has said if he is to be judged, it should be by his own people rather than by an international tribunal.

Pro-Gbagbo newspapers have accused the international court of being one-sided. But residents have expressed optimism about the court's involvement.

"It's good to have someone from the outside of the country investigating ... they can be more impartial, and more credible," said beauty product distributor Kone Tresor Korona, 33, a resident of Abidjan who hails from the north, like Ouattara.

"Since the government is also doing an investigation, we can compare the (results of the) two, and hopefully when we put them together we can be closer to the truth," Korona said.

The Ivory Coast investigation is the court's seventh, all of them in Africa. So far, none of the cases has reached a verdict.

Ivory Coast is not a member of the court, but has accepted its jurisdiction in the case. It is the first time the court has opened an investigation in a nonmember nation following such a recognition of jurisdiction by a nonmember state.

Despite their lack of member status, the prosecutor said authorities have welcomed him.

"This is the first time in which we have a good relationship with national authorities. They are allowing us to (speak with) victims," Moreno-Ocampo said. "It's an interesting, new experience."