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Wednesday, August 18, 1999 Published at 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK

World: Americas

'Licence to kill' for vigilantes

Crime is running rampant in parts of Venezuela

A state governor in Venezuela has told his police force not to prevent angry vigilantes from killing criminals.

Orlando Fernandez, governor of the central state of Lara, said it was ridiculous for the police to protect offenders when crime was rampant.

He was speaking as a mob in another state burnt a suspected murderer to death.

[ image: President Hugo Chavez might send in troops]
President Hugo Chavez might send in troops
"I am too busy to be protecting criminals," Mr Fernandez said.

"My police will not intervene to protect any crook, rapist assailant or murderer.

"I have to look after honest and decent people."

Human rights groups have condemned Mr Fernandez's approach.

Antonio Gonzalez, of the Provea human rights agency, said the governor had become a partner in crime with vigilantes and was no better than the criminals.

Crime rates on the rise

Crime rates in Venezuela have soared recently.

BBC Correspondent Peter Greste says the situation has been made worse by confusion following the introduction of a new penal code, which has led to many criminals being released soon after their arrest.

Public anger has resulted in vigilante groups meting out their own form of justice.

The federal government is reported to be drafting radical plans to cut crime.

President Hugo Chavez is said to be discussing the idea of sending troops into crime ridden districts.

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