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U.N. experts fear Myanmar tortures suspects held incommunicado

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GENEVA (Reuters) – Myanmar is holding insurgent suspects incommunicado in a practice that may be covering up torture, U.N. human rights experts said on Tuesday.

Myanmar’s human rights record has been under international scrutiny since a 2017 army-led campaign forced more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighbouring Bangladesh. The army has said they were targeting terrorists, but the United Nations has said the campaign was executed with “genocidal intent”.

Since late 2018, government troops have been battling the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group that recruits from Rakhine state, where Buddhists make up the majority.

The three U.N. experts, Yanghee Lee, Agnes Callamard and Nils Melzer, said they had grave concerns about the army’s use of incommunicado detention in the recent conflict, as well as allegations of torture, ill-treatment and deaths in custody.

“The practice of incommunicado detention must be immediately brought to an end,” said the experts, who report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Myanmar, extrajudicial executions and torture respectively.

“It is essential for detained people to be able to communicate with the outside world, especially with family members and their lawyer. We are especially concerned because incommunicado detention may facilitate torture.”

Two Myanmar military spokesmen, one government spokesman and Myanmar’s mission in Geneva did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment on the report.

The U.N. statement said the rights experts had reports of at least 15 deaths in custody of men alleged to be linked to the Arakan Army, and called on the army to make public the results of its investigation and hold anyone responsible to account.

They cited several cases of Rakhine men and boys being charged with terrorism offences and held incommunicado, including that of Naing Aung Htun, who was rounded up with about 50 others on Aug. 8.

The statement said he was held in incommunicado detention from until Aug. 21 and allegedly given electric shocks by soldiers, after which he confessed to having ties to the Arakan Army.

His father said he had been tortured, leaving him with injuries to his face, unable to chew, and suffering headaches and pain in his chest and back, the statement said.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Additional reporting by Thu Thu Aung in Yangon; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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