Accused thieves beaten for hours and then set on fire in bastion of "Red Ponchos," militant Aymara Indian supporters of President Evo Morales
LA PAZ -- Eleven accused thieves were beaten and set on fire in the northern Bolivian town of Achacachi, leaving two of the alleged criminals dead and two others badly injured, Bolivian media reported Monday.
Residents of the town - which is a bastion of the "Red Ponchos," militant Aymara Indian supporters of President Evo Morales - said they caught the six men and five women in the act around 8 p.m. Sunday.
Police and reporters who arrived on the scene, located 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) from La Paz, confirmed the deaths of the two people, but the other victims of the mob had already been taken to the hospital.
The residents of Achacachi took the presumed thieves to the local soccer stadium, where they beat them for hours, doused them with gasoline and set them on fire, killing two of them.
Police, after negotiating with the mob, rescued the other nine accused thieves and took them to La Paz.
According to a police source, the perpetrators of the lynching included "more than 2,000 people" and thus it will no doubt be difficult to establish who, precisely, was responsible for which specific acts.
Bolivia's deputy interior minister, Ruben Gamarra, confirmed that the nine accused thieves were turned over to police shortly after Achacachi Mayor Eugenio Rojas, also a member of the Red Ponchos, convinced the enraged townspeople to stop the lynching.
Gamarra told Radio Erbol that the lynching was "a reaction of the public by virtue of the fact that they have no confidence in the actions of prosecutors and the judiciary."
While pledging that the thieves would be punished, he called on the residents of Achacachi to "put aside violent attitudes" and recalled that "vigilante justice is not community justice."
Radio Fides reported that a military unit based nearby tried to prevent the lynching, but the local residents stopped them and did not even let the troops get near the 11 suspects.
The lynching of criminals caught in the act is a widespread practice in Bolivia's Andean region, where the indigenous people claim it as a form of "community justice."
Yet the Morales government, though advocating legal recognition for many Indian traditions and institutions, says that lynchings cannot be tolerated. EFE