Canadian police accused of abuse and failure to help natives

* Human Rights Watch urges inquiry into abuse allegations

* Group says it found physical and sexual abuse of females

* Aboriginal chief calls allegations "appalling"

By Russ Blinch

TORONTO, Feb 13 (Reuters) - The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are failing to protect aboriginal women in northern regions from violence, including abusive behavior by the national police force's own officers, according to a report released Wednesday by an international human rights organization.

Human Rights Watch called on the Canadian government to probe dozens of murders and disappearances of females along a strip of highway in northern British Columbia known as the "Highway of Tears".

"The threat of domestic and random violence on one side, and mistreatment by RCMP officers on the other, leaves indigenous women in a constant state of insecurity," said Meghan Rhoad, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Where can they turn for help when the police are known to be unresponsive and, in some cases, abusive?"

Human Rights Watch said that as part of its investigation it sent researchers to the area between Prince George and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, last July and August and interviewed 50 indigenous women and girls, while also talking with affected families and native leaders.

The group said it was told of excessive use of force, strip searches of women by male officers, as well as physical and sexual abuse.

"One woman said that in July, four police officers took her to a remote location, raped her, and threatened to kill her if she told anyone," the report stated.

The Canadian government was not immediately available for comment on the allegations.

Aboriginal leaders called on the government to implement the recommendations in the report, including establishing a national inquiry into the allegations of abuse.

"The stories shared in this report are heart-wrenching and absolutely appalling, particularly given this is only a small sample of the conditions and experiences of indigenous women, girls and families across our territories," said Shawn Atleo, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, a national umbrella group for aboriginal organizations. (Reporting By Russ Blinch; Editing by Peter Galloway)