Myanmar security forces must stop 'vicious crackdown' - U.N. rights chief

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FILE PHOTO: UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations human rights chief called on Myanmar's security forces on Thursday to halt their "vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters" and urged the military to release people unlawfully detained since the Feb. 1 coup.

Michelle Bachelet said that more than 1,700 people have been arbitrarily detained and that arrests were escalating. They included 29 journalists arrested in recent days, some charged with incitement to opposition or attending an unlawful assembly.

At least 54 people have been killed by Myanmar police and soldiers since the coup, but the actual death toll could be much higher, she said in a statement, citing figures her office has been able to verify.

"Myanmar's military must stop murdering and jailing protesters," Bachelet said, decrying the use of live ammunition against peaceful protesters across the country where hundreds have been wounded.

Soldiers and police are reported to be conducting door-to-door searches and detaining people, some of whom disappear into custody without their family being told about their whereabouts, a practice known as enforced disappearance, she said.

Bachelet urged Myanmar officials who have joined the civil disobedience movement to support efforts to hold miltary leaders accountable for serious human rights violations, through U.N. investigations and proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alex Richardson and Angus MacSwan)