LA PAZ, Bolivia – A mob in a town bordering Brazil plagued by drug traffickers and car thieves dragged two Brazilians from jail after their arrest as murder suspects, then beat them and burned them alive, authorities said Wednesday.
"It's barbarous what occurred Tuesday night, but people are tired of so much insecurity. No one is in charge of this town, where criminals do whatever they please," town councilman Claudio Rojas said by phone from San Matias.
The two Brazilians had been jailed after allegedly shooting to death three Bolivians and wounding two others Tuesday in a drunken dispute whose origin was unclear, police chief Edwin Rojas said.
One survivor of the shooting, Sergio Ramos, said in a TV interview that the men were drinking beer and joking around when one of the Brazilians, Max Diez, pulled out a revolver and started shooting.
"I saved myself because I pretended I was dead," said Ramos, who suffered a gunshot wound in an arm.
A crowd of about 400 people later stormed and sacked the jail, savagely beating the two Brazilians, both in their 20s and one an escapee from a Bolivian prison, and setting them ablaze in the street, the police chief said.
Police fired shots into the air but could not halt the killings, said San Matias' mayor, Carlos Velarde.
The two bodies were delivered to Brazilian authorities late Tuesday. Bolivia's regional police commander, Col. Lily Cortez, vowed to arrest and prosecute those responsible.
The local police chief, Rojas, said no one had been arrested so far in the lynching.
Cocaine traffickers and car thieves from both Bolivia and Brazil are active in San Matias, a town of 15,000 people that lies on a principal drug-trafficking route for Bolivian cocaine. Police say the town has become a refuge for Brazilian criminals, and violence is common there.
Across the border in Brazil's Mato Grosso state, federal police spokesman Paulo Gomes said investigators were sent to the frontier region Wednesday to "get a clear idea of exactly what happened and determine if the two Brazilians were involved in drug trafficking."
He said cars and motorbikes are frequently stolen in Mato Grosso and taken to Bolivia, where they are sold or exchanged for drugs.
The area is among border regions where the national government recently sent troops in a big anti-drug operation, Gomes said.
Lynchings are not uncommon in rural areas of Bolivia where police and judicial workers are scarce.
Associated Press writer Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo, Brazil, contributed to this report.