The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Tuesday he is analyzing information on last week's massacre in the Ivory Coast and wants to open a formal investigation.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo says he wants to "intervene" because "crimes against humanity affect not just people in one country like Ivory Coast, (they) affect humanity."
His comments came as Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo huddled with his family in a bunker at the besieged presidential residence and tried to negotiate terms of surrender months after his rival, Alassane Ouattara, was declared the internationally backed winner of November elections that plunged the West African nation into chaos.
Roman Catholic charity Caritas said over the weekend that more than 1,000 people were killed over three days last week in the western town of Duekoue in a neighborhood controlled by forces fighting to install Ouattara as president.
Moreno-Ocampo said it was not yet clear who was responsible for the massacre.
"We are concerned about the recent information on massive atrocities committed in the western part of Cote d'Ivoire," he said. "We are trying to define exactly what happened there."
Moreno-Ocampo said that "Gbagbo himself accepted jurisdiction of the court and Mr. Ouattara confirmed that, so what we are doing now is collecting information in order to open an investigation there."
He urged the Ivory Coast's West African neighbors to help him speed up the process of starting an investigation by "referring" the case to the court.
If a state that recognizes the court calls for an investigation, Moreno-Ocampo can honor that request immediately. If that does not happen, Moreno-Ocampo has to gather enough evidence to persuade a panel of judges they should allow him to open an investigation, a process that could take weeks or months.
"We are discussing with some state parties particularly from the region," he said. "If they decide to refer the case, that will help to expedite the activities of the court in the Ivory Coast."
It was not clear if any countries close to Ivory Coast have offered to send the case to The Hague. Moreno-Ocampo said he would ideally like a member of regional grouping the Economic Community Of West African States to do it.
In December, as Ivory Coast was spiraling toward the conflict now enveloping the nation, Moreno-Ocampo warned the country's leaders to prevent atrocities.
While the warning appears to have done little to halt killings, Moreno-Ocampo said that it would make prosecutions easier as military and civilian leaders had been put on notice to make sure forces loyal to them did not commit crimes.