The International Criminal Court is to open a preliminary examination into violence in the Central African Republic to determine whether atrocities committed there constitute possible war crimes, the court's prosecutor has said.
Fatou Bensouda said on Friday that her office had reviewed many reports of "extreme brutality" and that allegations of crimes committed "possibly fall within the ambit of the jurisdiction of the ICC".
"The allegations include hundreds of killings, acts of rape and sexual slavery, destruction of property, pillaging, torture, forced displacement and recruitment and use of children in hostilities," Bensouda said in a statement.
"In many incidents, victims appear to have been deliberately targeted on religious grounds."
The Central African Republic has been engulfed in violence since Muslim Seleka (alliance) rebels seized power in March 2013, driving the then President Francois Bozize out of power and launching a campaign of terror against civilians.
The atrocities have transformed the conflict into one with religious undertones, pitting Seleka against the mainly Christian groups known as anti-balaka (machete), the weapon of choice for the Seleka rebels.
Bensouda said she had warned the groups responsible for the conflict to cease violence, warning them that those alleged to be committing heinous crimes could be held individually accountable.
She said her office's efforts would be coordinated with those of the African Union and the United Nations in CAR.
"In conformity with the complementarity principle, my Office will also be engaging with the CAR authorities with a view to discussing ways and means to bring perpetrators to account, including at the national level," Bensouda said.
The African Union and France have sent troops to the CAR to try to restore order, but violence continues and on Wednesday soldiers publicly lynched a suspected ex-Seleka rebel after a military ceremony presided over by Catherine Samba Panza, the new interim president.
CAR is a signatory to the Rome Statute, which led to the formation of ICC, and the court has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed on the territory or by nationals of CAR since 1 July 2002, Bensouda said.