HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Western diplomats on Friday formally protested the illegal detention and torture of two Zimbabwean journalists by military police.

Envoys from the European Union _ which includes Britain, the country's former colonial power _ Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States delivered a protest note to acting Foreign Minister Nathan Shamuyarira.

The statement called on the Zimbabwean government to demonstrate its commitment to international standards of human rights, investigate the torture charges without delay and punish any perpetrators.

Mark Chavunduka, 34, editor of the independent Standard newspaper, and reporter Ray Choto, 37, were detained by military police after they reported the arrest of 23 soldiers who allegedly plotted a coup in December. The government has denied the newspaper's report and described it as treasonable.

The journalists said they were tortured to reveal their sources, charges corroborated by a medical report commissioned by their newspaper.

The diplomatic protest said Western nations were particularly concerned about the detention of civilians by the military, the use of torture, the violation of press freedom and the threat to the independence of the judiciary. The military twice ignored a High Court order to release Chavunduka.

``The above mentioned actions have done serious damage to the image of Zimbabwe,'' the statement said.