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YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) _ A prominent Cameroon separatist leader died in state custody, hospital officials said Thursday. Newspapers reported he was tortured to death.

Paramilitary police brought the body of George Shiynyuy to a Catholic mission hospital in Kumbo, 435 miles northwest of the capital, officials there said. The cause of death was not immediately available.

National newspapers reported that Shiynyuy, youth leader with the Southern Cameroons National Council, was beaten while in the custody of paramilitary police. He died Sept. 11 at age 38, the reports said.

Paramilitary officials in Kumbo, where Shiynyuy had been detained since Sept. 10, declined to comment. The reports could not be independently verified.

English-speaking Cameroonians, who comprise about 20 percent of the population and dominate two provinces, have long agitated for autonomy or independence from the primarily French-speaking west African country. They complain they are treated as second-class citizens.

Shiynyuy's arrest came before a demonstration planned for Oct. 1, one year after police fired on demonstrators from his secessionist party, killing three people and arresting at least 140 others. But it was not immediately clear whether his detention was linked to the planned action.

His wife, Dora Dzemla, said paramilitary police gave no reason for his arrest when they took him from his home.

``George only had time to put on a pair of trousers and a shirt, when he was pulled out of the house,'' she said.

Shiynyuy was unharmed when she last saw him. But news reports said blood was coming from his ears and nose when his body was delivered to the hospital.