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ICC chief says court's statute sanctions probe of N.K. attacks
NEW YORK/SEOUL, Dec. 8 (Yonhap) -- The International Criminal Court (ICC)'s preliminary review of North Korea's attacks on a South Korean warship and island is sanctioned by the court's founding treaty, of which Seoul is a party, the ICC's chief said Wednesday.

   "Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the ICC can launch a preliminary examination into crimes that took place on South Korean territory," Song Sang-hyun, the South Korean-born president of the ICC, told reporters at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

   The Hague-based ICC said in a statement earlier this week that it has begun initial stages of an investigation to determine whether the March sinking of the naval ship Cheonan, blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack, and last month's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island "constitute war crimes." Forty-six sailors on board the Cheonan and four people on the western border island, including two civilians, were killed in the attacks.

   The ICC said it opened the initial probe after receiving "communications alleging that North Korean forces committed war crimes."

   The court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, told reporters that the "communications" had been filed by South Korean citizens and students, not by the government.

   South Korean officials, speaking Tuesday on condition of anonymity, denied direct government involvement in the case but welcomed the ICC's move, vowing to "provide active cooperation" as South Korea is a member state of the ICC and a victim of the two incidents.

   The court may launch a formal investigation into the two cases based on the results of the preliminary studies, Song said, after which the prosecution could decide to press charges against a specific individual in North Korea. The ICC can only prosecute individuals and generally only when the accused is a national of a member state, the alleged crime occurred in a member state or if the case has been referred to the court by the U.N. Security Council.

   Song acknowledged that the ICC will not be able to force a North Korean to stand trial as long as he or she remains in the communist nation or in other countries that are not part of the treaty, but stressed that an arrest warrant issued by the court will subject the individual to various restrictions.

   "The accused cannot travel to member states of the ICC because such nations have legal obligations to arrest and send him or her to the ICC," he said.

   "An ICC arrest warrant has no statute of limitations or cause for immunity. It is valid until (the accused individual) dies, so even if the ICC cannot force jurisdiction over him or her, the individual comes under enormous stress."

   hague@yna.co.kr
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