International court could launch N. Korea war crimes case
The International Criminal Court chief prosecutor on Monday launched an inquiry into whether North Korea should face war crimes charges over attacks on the rival South.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the probe was not requested by South Korea, which has put its forces on heightened alert since an artillery assault on Yeonpyeong island in which four people were killed.
Campo said in a statement that his office has opened a "preliminary investigation" into whether the shelling and the sinking of a South Korean warship on March 26 "constitute war crimes under the jurisdiction of the Court."
The November 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong left two South Korean marines and two civilians dead. The sinking of the Cheonan killed 46 South Korean navy crew.
South Korea and an international inquiry have said the communist North fired the torpedo that sank the corvette.
North Korea has denied any involvement in the torpedo sinking and accused the South of provoking the shelling by carrying out live-fire exercises on the island that sent shells into waters claimed by the North.
In New York, Ocampo told reporters that the court "received communications about some incidents that could be war crimes in the territory of the Republic of (South) Korea.
"The Republic of Korea is a state party so my duty is to check if these incidents can constitute a war crime under the jurisdiction of the court. That is why we start this preliminary investigation."
North Korea does not recognize the International Criminal Court so Ocampo said he could not investigate the widespread allegations of widespread deaths and abuses in the North's labour camps.
Ocampo stressed that his action did not constitute a formal investigation.
"Before starting an investigation the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has to define if the crimes are under the jurisdiction of the court. And that is what I'm doing."
The sinking of the Cheonan and the artillery shelling both happened on the disputed sea frontier between the two Koreas. Yeonpyeong is just south of the border declared by United Nations forces after the 1950-53 Korean War, but north of the sea frontier declared by Pyongyang.
The International Criminal Court is an independent, permanent court that investigates and prosecutes persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes if national authorities with jurisdiction are unwilling or unable to do so genuinely.
© 2010 AFP