|ICC to conduct preliminary inquiry into Mali conflict||
International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Wednesday she had ordered a preliminary inquiry into events in Mali where Islamists have taken over the north of the country.
The examination of the situation would seek to establish if the criteria had been met to open an inquiry that could result in charges being brought for alleged atrocities.
Rights bodies accuse armed groups in the north of rapes, executions and use of child soldiers.
"I have instructed my office to immediately proceed with a preliminary examination of the situation," Bensouda said in a statement after talks with Malian Justice Minister Malick Coulibaly.
"The government of Mali... refers the situation in Mali since January 2012 to my office and requests an investigation to determine whether one or more persons should be charged with the crimes committed," it said.
The Malian government had declared itself "unable to prosecute or try the perpetrators", the statement added.
Mali said last week it planned to ask the ICC to probe atrocities allegedly committed by armed groups occupying the north.
Bensouda told AFP last week that the ongoing destruction of the shrines of Muslim saints in Timbuktu was a war crime, and that the court was collecting information on the matter.
Mali's crisis began when Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in January launched a rebellion for independence which swiftly overwhelmed the nation's army.
Angry and frustrated, a group of mid-ranking soldiers carried out a coup on March 22. However this only worsened the situation as the north became easy prey and fell to rebel groups in a matter of days.
The Tuareg rebels have since been completely sidelined by armed jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) who initially appeared fighting with them in an unclear alliance.
The Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) has violently enforced sharia law, whipping unmarried couples and chopping off hands, the International Federation for Human Rights FIDH said, and has also smashed the ancient shrines seen as idolatrous.
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