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War Crimes Probe Opened against North Korea

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday he has opened a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes by North Korea resulting from its recent clashes with South Korea.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo said that after receiving complaints, his office is looking at the Nov. 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the sinking of South Korean warship the Cheonan in March to see whether they constitute war crimes.

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The shelling killed two South Korean marines and two civilians. Forty-six people died in the sinking of the Cheonan, which was "hit by a torpedo allegedly fired from a North Korean submarine," ICC prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement.

South Korea in 2002 signed the international treaty that established the war crimes court, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands. The prosecutor said in a statement Monday that the treaty gives the court jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on South Korean territory.

North Korea does not recognize the court's authority.

Under the ICC's rules, the prosecutor plays a leading role in deciding which of the many complaints it receives are strong enough to merit formal charges and prosecution. Prosecutors investigate cases themselves. Judges must approve each step along the way.

The court is investigating other possible war crimes, including a preliminary investigation in Afghanistan and formal investigations in Sudan and Kenya, among others.

It has jurisdiction in cases involving member states, and also is sometimes empowered to investigate cases by the U.N. Security Council - as it was in a case concerning Sudan's Darfur region, where the court has issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir on suspicion of genocide. He denies wrongdoing.

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