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THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court prosecutor said on Tuesday he is in talks with West African states about referring alleged atrocities in the Ivory Coast to the court to accelerate an investigation into the violence.
More than 1,500 people are reported to have died in the Ivory Coast since Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to concede he lost November's presidential election to Alassane Ouattara plunged the world's top cocoa producer into civil war.
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said his office was concerned about reports of atrocities, particularly in the west of the country, and was looking into the violence, but declined to say who might be held accountable for the killings.
"We are discussing with some (ICC) state parties, particularly within the region, if they wish to refer the case. That would help to expedite the activities of the court," Moreno-Ocampo told journalists at his offices in The Hague.
Under the 1998 Rome Statute that set up the court, any state that is a member of the ICC can refer a case to the court, requesting the prosecutor to investigate alleged crimes.
While Ivory Coast is an ICC member state, giving the court jurisdiction over crimes committed there, Moreno-Ocampo also said a referral from an ICC member state over the current crisis would prove "very useful" in accelerating a formal probe.
Moreno-Ocampo said his office was discussing a referral with members of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS and downplayed talk that ICC member state France, which has deployed its military alongside a U.N. peacekeeping force in the country, would refer the case.
"What we are doing now is collecting information in order to open an investigation there. We are concerned about the recent information of massive atrocities in the west of Ivory Coast and we are trying to define exactly what happened there," he said.
The standoff in Ivory Coast has rekindled the country's 2002-3 civil war, but Gbagbo was negotiating the terms of his departure from power on Tuesday after an assault by forces loyal to Ouattara backed by U.N. and French helicopter airstrikes.
The ICC is already conducting a preliminary examination into crimes committed in the West African state, including alleged widespread sexual violence in 2002-2005, but is yet to authorize a formal probe.
Moreno-Ocampo had warned in December that any leaders planning violence would end up on trial in The Hague.
Writing by Aaron Gray-Block; Editing by Susan Fenton