updated 6/16/2007 4:29:05 PM ET 2007-06-16T20:29:05

Thousands of angry Guatemalans beat a woman to death and set another on fire on suspicion they had killed a young girl and stolen her organs to sell them, police said Saturday.

Nine-year-old Mishel Diaz disappeared from her home in Camotan, a town near the border with Honduras, last Thursday and her mutilated body was discovered a day later abandoned on a dirt track.

Her arm was cut off, eyes gouged out and body carved up, with the skin on her chest removed in what looked like an attempt to steal her heart and kidneys, said town police chief Enrique Lemus.

An angry mob wielding rocks and sticks went house to house looking for three women they thought committed the murder.

“Some neighbors said they saw one woman kidnap the little girl. That’s how they figured these women were responsible,” Lemus said. “Then at least 2,000 people went out looking for them. It was the entire town.”

The furious horde beat 24-year-old Marciana Recinos to death in the town square.

Police rescued the other two women but only after the mob doused one woman with gasoline and set her on fire. She is now recovering in hospital and the third woman is in jail.

There is a deep fear in rural Guatemala of children being stolen to sell them or their organs for transplants, although this is often based on rumor and unfounded stories.

Lynch mobs have killed hundreds of people in the poor Central American country since 1996, when it signed peace accords to end a 36-year civil war that left a quarter of a million people dead or missing.

Many experts blame the vigilante justice on exposure to violence during the war, combined with a lack of faith in the crumbling criminal justice system.

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