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ICC declines to open N Korea war crimes probe

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor on Monday said there was "no reasonable basis" for an investigation into whether Pyongyang should face war crimes charges for attacks on South Korea.

THE HAGUE: The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor on Monday said there were no reasonable grounds to start an investigation into whether Pyongyang should face war crimes charges for attacks on South Korea.

Fatou Bensouda "concluded that there is no reasonable basis to initiate an investigation" into two deadly incidents in 2010: an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong island and the sinking of South Korea's Cheonan warship.

The Hague-based ICC, set up to prosecute the world's worst crimes, launched an initial probe in 2010 after then-prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo received "communications" about the two incidents.

South Korea is a state party to the court's founding Rome Statute and did not ask for a probe, but Moreno-Ocampo at the time said the court "had a duty to check whether the attacks could constitute war crimes".

On March 23, 2010, the South Korean corvette Cheonan sank in disputed waters of the Yellow Sea, with the loss of 46 sailors' lives.

Seoul and an international enquiry both blamed the sinking on a torpedo fired by the communist North.

In November 2010, North Korea also launched an artillery assault on Yeonpyeong island, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians.

North Korea has denied any involvement in the ship's sinking and accused its southern neighbour of provoking the shelling in waters claimed by Pyongyang.

"Regarding the Cheonan, the conclusion is that the alleged attack was directed at a lawful military target and would not otherwise meet the definition of... war crime," the prosecutor's office said.

On the attack at Yeonpyeong island, the investigation concluded that "even though the shelling resulted in civilian casualties, the information... does not provide a reasonable basis to believe it was directed against civilian objects".

Bensouda, however, warned that her report "in no way should be construed as condoning in any way" North Korea's use of armed force.

"Having noted the recurrent threats issued by North Korea against its neighbour," any future acts against Seoul that fall within the ICC's jurisdiction will be investigated and prosecuted under the Rome Statute.

Pyongyang has come under mounting criticism since a UN report released earlier this year accused North Korea of crimes against humanity comparable to Nazi Germany.

Last month, North Korea fired shells into the water near a South Korean warship patrolling the disputed Yellow Sea border.

Cross-border tension has been high for months, amid signs that the North may be preparing to conduct a fourth nuclear test.

Because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war.

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