AMSTERDAM The international war crimes court said on Monday it would investigate killings and rapes committed in the Ivory Coast when violence erupted after disputed presidential elections last year.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the International Criminal Court prosecutor, in June requested the right to open an investigation, alleging that forces loyal to ousted leader Laurent Gbagbo as well as those backing his rival, Alassane Ouattara, had committed war crimes.
ICC judges on Monday granted the prosecutor the right to open an investigation. This will be the Hague-based court's seventh formal probe, all of them in Africa. It has already issued an arrest warrant for Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.
Gbagbo refused to cede power to Ouattara following the November 28 election, triggering months of violence and economic havoc in the world's top cocoa-producing country before Gbagbo was captured in April in Abidjan.
The former leader is currently being detained in the north of the country and Ouattara said last month he would be tried in Ivory Coast for "economic crimes" and also face justice at the ICC.
Gbagbo's supporters, however, complain that not a single member of Ouattara's camp has been arrested, despite evidence of abuses by the former rebel troops.
"We are pleased to know the ICC will investigate. It is a sign that justice will be done," said Sylvain Ouretto Miaka, the interim head of Gbagbo's party, the Ivorian Popular Front.
"We just hope that the ICC conducts its work independently and transparently, as we have always rejected 'winner's justice'. We are hopeful and we are calm."
Moreno-Ocampo has said at least 3,000 people were killed and 520 people were arbitrarily detained in the violence, while there were more than 100 reported cases of rape.
Ivory Coast last month launched a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission to try to heal the wounds of the conflict that drove a million people from their homes.
The 2010 election was supposed to draw a line under the 2002-2003 civil war that split the West African country into a government-held south and rebel-held north.
But Gbagbo's refusal to accept defeat despite UN-certified results showing he had lost reawakened old tensions between ethnic groups.
The ICC has also asked the prosecutor to provide within one month any information on crimes committed between 2002 and 2010, potentially widening the scope of the investigation.
Although the Ivory Coast is not one of the member countries covered by the ICC, the world's first permanent war crimes court, it has accepted the jurisdiction of the court.
Ouattara also wrote to Moreno-Ocampo in May asking the ICC to investigate reported abuses.
(Additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly in Abidjan; Editing by Giles Elgood)