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An ethnic Uzbek woman who fled from southern Kyrgyzstan walks with her child at a refugee camp in the village of Yorkishlak on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border in June. ((Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters))

A leading international rights group warned Wednesday that the torture and arbitrary detention of ethnic Uzbeks by security forces in southern Kyrgyzstan could lead to a new wave of intercommunal conflict.

Human Rights Watch said that Uzbeks are being "disproportionately" arrested — and at times choked and burned with cigarette butts — as part of a government drive to investigate and punish those responsible for deadly ethnic riots last month.

"Coercing confessions through torture discredits the investigation and fans the flames of the ethnic conflict," said Anna Neistat, a researcher with the New York-based group in Kyrgyzstan.

Hundreds of people, mainly minority Uzbeks, were killed in rampages by ethnic Kyrgyz through their neighbourhoods in June. The violence left much of the southern city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second largest city, a smoldering ruin. Hundreds of thousands of Uzbeks were forced to flee their homes.

Kyrgyz authorities have yet to agree to growing demands for an international inquiry into the violence, which is thought to have been deliberately provoked.