GENEVA (REUTERS) - The United Nations human rights chief called on Myanmar's security forces on Thursday (March 4) to "halt their vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters" and urged the military to release people unlawfully detained since the Feb 1 coup.
Ms Michelle Bachelet said in a statement that more than 1,700 people have been arbitrarily detained and that arrests were escalating, with 29 journalists arrested in recent days.
At least 54 people have been killed by Myanmar police and military officers since the coup, but the actual death toll could be much higher, she said.
"Myanmar's military must stop murdering and jailing protesters," she said.
In the statement, UN Human Rights said reports also indicated a handful of individuals have already been convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from seven days to two years.
"Others are known to have been charged and are awaiting trial. Another 61 people who are being sought by the military authorities are in hiding," the statement said.
"The number of arbitrary arrests and detentions have escalated in recent days - on Wednesday alone, at least 700 people were detained. In many instances, soldiers and police are reported to be conducting door-to-door searches and detaining people," the statement added.
Police in Myanmar broke up demonstrations in several places with tear gas and gunfire on Thursday but there was no immediate word on casualties.
Undeterred by the crackdown, activists said they refused to accept military rule and were determined to press for the release of elected government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and recognition of her victory in a November election.
The military justified the coup by saying its complaints of voter fraud in the Nov 8 vote were ignored.
Ms Suu Kyi's party won by a landslide, earning a second term. The election commission said the vote was fair.
Junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has pledged to hold new elections but given no time frame.