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Rights Groups Hail ICC Probe Into CAR War Crimes

FILE - ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda looks on during the case against Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda [not shown] at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Feb. 2014.

Human rights groups and Central Africans have welcomed the decision by the Hague-based International Criminal Court to open a second war crimes investigation in conflict-torn Central African Republic.

The International Criminal Court will probe atrocities, including murder, rape and persecution, that have taken place since conflict erupted in the Central African Republic in 2012.

This is the second investigation by the Hague-based court targeting the country. Former C.A.R. Vice President Jean Pierre Bemba is on trial for crimes committed more than a decade ago.

In a statement Wednesday, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda described the list of atrocities committed in the Central African Republic as "endless." The alleged crimes, she said, cannot be ignored.

African Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch Anneke Van Woudenberg described the new probe as 'extremely good news.'

"There has obviously been significant human rights abuses of the most serious nature: war crimes, crimes against humanity, that have been committed in CAR. And it is clear that there has been complete impunity for those crimes," she said. "And the prosecutor of the ICC will hopefully send a strong message that justice is now coming and those responsible can now be brought to The Hague."

Rights advocates say about 5,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced since Seleka rebels staged a coup in the Central African Republic. In her statement, Bensouda blamed both the mostly Muslim rebels and mostly Christian anti-Balaka militia for the atrocities.

Critics claim the ICC is biased against Africa and moves too slowly in delivering justice. But Van Woudenberg noted that C.A.R.'s own president, Catherine Samba Panza, requested this investigation. And the complexity of probing war crimes, she said, takes time.

"It is important that those most responsible for the crimes are held to account. And that takes significant time to systematically collect the information, interview the witnesses. Is this going to be quick? No. Is it going to be good justice? I very much hope so," she said.

For decades, Van Woudenberg said, no justice at all has been delivered in C.A.R. With the ICC probe, there is a chance that cycle will be broken.