Mexican Vigilantes Arrested In Videotaped Burning Death - Latest Of Several Incidents

MEXICO CITY - Stunned by a nationally televised videotape of vigilantes burning a suspected killer alive, scores of police raided a rural town and arrested seven people for murder.

Throughout yesterday, Mexican television stations broadcast a homemade videotape showing a badly beaten man tied to a tree. Another man stepped forward, doused him with gasoline from a plastic pop bottle, then stepped back and flicked a match.

Flames erupted, and the man screamed and writhed as dozens of people looked on - some smiling and laughing. His charred body finally slumped against his bonds.

It was the latest incident in which Mexican townsfolk, fed up with crime and suspicious of the police, have taken the law into their hands.

Residents of Tatahuicapa in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz on Saturday had accused the man, Rodolfo Soler Hernandez, of raping and killing a woman as she washed clothes in a river.

More than 100 officers raided the village yesterday and hauled away at least 27 of the 1,300 residents. Seven were arrested on murder charges.

The national Televisa network reported that village leaders had signed an agreement sentencing Soler to death.

"There is no right of the people to condemn someone to death," said Veracruz Attorney General Rodolfo Duarte Rivas, calling the act an "illegal execution."

But it was not an isolated incident. Saturday, residents of Motozintla in southern Mexico overran the town jail, seizing three men and burning two of them alive on lampposts, Mexico's official Notimex news agency reported. The men were suspects in several assaults, including the rape of a young girl.

On Monday in Puebla state, police saved two other criminal suspects from being taken from their cells and killed, Notimex said.

Residents in the Mexico state town of Tolman recently beat and then held for more than a day in their town square a man suspected of a robbery and shooting. They vowed to kill him if any of his victims died of their wounds.

Several residents involved said they were enforcing their justice because police and courts were corrupt or incompetent.