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Mexico army tortures in drug war surge rights body

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican soldiers fighting a war against drug cartels have arbitrarily detained suspects, beating and torturing them with electric shocks, a senior human rights official said on Wednesday.

Mauricio Ibarra, a top investigator at the National Human Rights Commission, said complaints of army abuses have spiked since 10,000 troops surged into Ciudad Juarez, the country’s most violent city on the U.S.-Mexican border.

Soldiers charged with patrolling drug hotspots have detained suspects in military barracks -- sometimes for up to 12 hours -- and beaten them to solicit information before turning them over to police investigators, Ibarra said.

“They give them electric shocks on different parts of the body ... testicles, arms, legs, buttocks,” Ibarra told Reuters.

“Some complain they have been hit on the soles of their feet with bats,” he said, detailing 22 formal accusations presented to the army by the commission since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006 pledging to combat drug gangs.

Some 6,300 people were killed last year as rival cartels attacked each other and security forces. The drug violence is worrying the United States, which is giving hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Mexico’s security forces.

The army acknowledged some abuses have occurred, but denied the worst allegations and said the public overall welcomes the troop deployments in Ciudad Juarez, which has succeeded in cutting the number of drug killing dramatically.

Reports of arbitrary detention by the army collected by the commission, Mexico’s official human rights watchdog, jumped in the first three months of this year to 172 compared to 311 complaints for all of 2008, the bulk around Ciudad Juarez in the northern state of Chihuahua.

The commission has yet to fully investigate all those reports.

“We have seen with great concern a growing number of incidents. The armed forces are not trained as police and when they are used as police there tend to be excesses,” he said.

The army took control of local police forces in Ciudad Juarez last month in one of the biggest operations in years, leaving masked and camouflage-clad soldiers standing guard outside banks and supermarkets and patrolling the streets.

In the gravest accusations in Ciudad Juarez so far, two mothers say soldiers abducted their two sons, tortured one and beat the other to death this month.

The army denied the accusation.

“In these cases there was no involvement of ether soldiers or federal police,” said army spokesman Enrique Torres.

Torres said criminals have been known to dress in stolen police and military uniforms and then commit abuses.

“We are not saying abuses don’t occur but we are not trying to cover anything up,” Torres told Reuters.

Additional reporting by Miguel Angel Gutierrez in Mexico City and Robin Emmott in Monterrey; editing by Todd Eastham