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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court is opening a new investigation into atrocities including murder, rape and persecution during ruthless sectarian fighting since 2012 in the Central African Republic, the court's prosecutor said Wednesday.
Months of fighting between the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition and the Christian anti-Balaka militia have left at least 5,000 people dead in one of Africa's least developed countries, prompting Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to step in and try to bring perpetrators to justice.
"The list of atrocities is endless," Bensouda said. "I cannot ignore these alleged crimes."
It is the court's second investigation in the Central African Republic. In the first, a former Congo vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba, is on trial on charges of commanding rebels who committed murder, rape and pillaging in the country in 2002-2003. Bemba is awaiting verdicts in his trial, which began in 2010.
Bensouda opened a preliminary inquiry in Central African Republic in February and in May the conflict-torn nation's government authorized the court to step in — a crucial step clearing the way for a full-blown investigation.
Bensouda said that during the preliminary investigation, prosecutors studied "relevant information from multiple reliable sources."
The information "provides a reasonable basis to believe that both the Seleka and the anti-Balaka groups have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, forced displacement, persecution, pillaging, attacks against humanitarian missions and the use of children under 15 in combat," she said in a written statement.
Rights group Human Rights Watch welcomed Bensouda's announcement.
"An impartial inquiry to identify those responsible for the most serious crimes from all parties is crucial to bring justice to the victims and send a clear signal to all perpetrators that they may be held to account," said Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program at Human Rights Watch.
On the streets of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, the news was also welcomed.
"Normally we Africans are against the actions of the ICC, but for the Central African case, it's a necessity because the Central African justice system doesn't have the means or the desire to judge those responsible for this crisis," said Pierre Kandas, 35, who is unemployed.
Associated Press writer Steve Niko in Bangui, Central African Republic, contributed to this report.
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