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HRW: Ukraine Rebels Use Civilians for Forced Labor

FILE - Pro-Russian rebels hold their guns as they patrol the Lenin square in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.

A leading human rights group is accusing rebels in eastern Ukraine of arresting civilians and using them for forced labor, in some cases near frontline battle positions.

Human Rights Watch released a report on Friday alleging civilians are being arrested for minor alleged infractions, such as drinking beer in public, breaking curfew or unlawful use of drugs.

It said the separatists are forcing the citizens to serve for as long as 30 days in so-called "punishment brigades," where they must fill sandbags, dig trenches, or work in kitchens.

Some of those interviewed by the New York-based group said they were forced to work at checkpoints close to where Ukrainian forces are battling the separatists.

In addition to the forced manual labor, others citizens reported being beaten in detention. When they refused to cooperate, the separatists threatened to kill them.

The group said the practice of forced labor appears to be widespread in areas of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by the rebels, which the West says are supported by Russia.