By Aaron Gray-Block
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The world's top war crimes prosecutor said forces loyal to ousted Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo as well as those backing his rival, Alassane Ouattara, committed war crimes in the post-election violence.
Former President Gbagbo refused to cede power to Ouattara following the November 28 election, triggering months of violence and economic havoc in the world's top cocoa-producing country before Gbagbo was captured in April in Abidjan.
After lodging a request with International Criminal Court judges on Thursday for approval to start an investigation, prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said at least 3,000 people were killed and 520 people were arbitrarily detained in the violence.
There were more than 100 reported cases of rape and the number of unreported cases could be much higher, he added.
Moreno-Ocampo, who will send a team to assess the security situation in the Ivory Coast on Monday and to plan for his investigation, said it was not yet clear who was the most responsible for the crimes.
"We have to collect the evidence to define who gave the orders to commit the crimes," Moreno-Ocampo said. "After all the violence and suffering in Ivory Coast, justice has to be done."
If authorized to open a probe, this would be Moreno-Ocampo's seventh formal investigation; all of them are in Africa.
Although Moreno-Ocampo has launched preliminary examinations in 11 countries, from South America to the Middle East and Asia, he has only opened formal probes in Africa, prompting criticism the court is only targeting African crimes.
"I am in Africa today, because the most serious crimes under my jurisdiction are today in Africa," Moreno-Ocampo said, defending his actions. "We are working with African leaders, leaders who are struggling to stop violence in Africa."
Humans rights groups welcomed the prosecutor's request for an investigation into the Ivory Coast, but said the scope of the request did not go far enough.
Alison Smith at No Peace Without Justice urged Moreno-Ocampo and Ouattara to investigate crimes committed by all forces in the Ivory Coast dating back to 2002 when the ICC was set up.
"Ivory Coast's own history demonstrates that granting impunity for serious crimes only encourages those crimes to continue, whether by the same perpetrators or others," she said.
Moreno-Ocampo said evidence indicated pro-Gbagbo forces allegedly committed crimes against humanity by killing civilians who challenged his decision to stay in power last year.
He said once the armed conflict started, both pro-Gbagbo forces and pro-Ouattara forces allegedly committed war crimes.
Gbagbo is being detained in northern Ivory Coast, awaiting a domestic trial for alleged economic crimes, although Ouattara also wants him tried in the ICC for crimes against humanity.
Yet former rebels loyal to Ouattara were last week still committing abuses such as executions and torture, in which they killed at least 8 people, the U.N. peacekeeping mission said on Thursday.
No one from Ouattara's camp has yet been arrested.
Although the Ivory Coast is not one of the member countries covered by the ICC, the world's first permanent war crimes court, it has accepted the jurisdiction of the court and Ouattara wrote to Moreno-Ocampo in May asking the ICC to investigate reported abuses.
(Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block; editing by Philippa Fletcher)