BAMAKO — A team from the International Criminal Court was in Mali on Friday to investigate whether Islamic extremists who have occupied the country's desert north have committed war crimes.
"We're in Mali to pick up elements, listen to various people and take a comparative look" at available reports, ICC mission chief Amady Ba told journalists three days after the delegation arrived in Bamako.
"This is a time of analysis... We shall be taking our findings back and the (ICC) prosecutor (Fatou Bensouda) will judge if there is a need for inquiries before taking legal action," Ba said.
The three-member team from the tribunal based in The Hague on Thursday met Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore, prime minister Cheick Modibo Diarra and members of a Malian panel set up to liase with the ICC.
According to a dossier by the Mali working group, the crimes include summary executions of Malian soldiers, rapes, massacres of civilians, the enlistment of child soldiers and torture.
The extremists are also accused of forced disappearances, looting and the destruction of state buildings such as town halls, schools, courts and hospitals, as well as churches, mosques and mausoleums.
Bensouda in mid-July announced an initial probe at the request of the Mali government into whether armed groups committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in their sweep that followed a coup in the capital Bamako.
The regions of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal have for five months been occupied by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad (MUJAO) and Ansar Dine (Defenders of Islam), which both profess links to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The groups have sidelined Tuareg rebels and imposed strict Islamic law.
The extremists have since stoned an unwed couple to death, cut off the hand of a thief, and destroyed historic religious monuments in Timbuktu, which they considered sacrilegious icons.
A Malian justice ministry official said the ICC mission will stay for an unknown duration, as long as it needs for its task.
"The dossier sent by the working group to call on the ICC is clear: it's a matter of crimes committed by the occupants of the three northern regions."
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