August 12, 2008 / 4:08 PM / 9 years ago

ICC may probe Georgia conflict -prosecutor

(Adds background on Georgia conflict, court and byline)

By David Lewis

DAKAR, Aug 12 (Reuters) - International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has been contacted about the conflict in Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia and may launch a preliminary investigation, he said on Tuesday.

"We have started to receive communications on this," Moreno-Ocampo told Reuters by telephone from the court in The Hague.

Asked if he would be launching a preliminary investigation, he said: "It is a possibility". He gave no further details.

Fighting began last Thursday when Georgia sent its forces to retake control of South Ossetia, a pro-Russian province that rejected Georgian rule in the 1990s.

Moscow responded by sending in heavily armed troops, who quickly overwhelmed the Georgian soldiers.

Russia says 1,600 South Ossetian civilians have been killed, while Georgia has reported close to 200 killed and hundreds of wounded. Neither set of figures has been independently verified.

The United Nations said on Tuesday that nearly 100,000 people have been driven from their homes.

The ICC was set up to try serious crimes like genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes where national judicial authorities had failed to investigate such crimes properly.

Moreno-Ocampo caused a diplomatic dispute last month when he asked the court's judges to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide and war crimes in that country's Darfur region.

A number of countries have said the move is counterproductive and risks derailing an already shaky joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur. (Editing by Alistair Thomson and Catherine Evans)

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