(above) A woman looks at policemen on patrol at downtown La Paz.

Mennonites arrested for multiple rapes: Bolivia
June 23, 2009 - AFP

LA PAZ (AFP) — Seven members of a religious Mennonite colony in Bolivia have been arrested for the alleged rape of 60 women in their community over the past few months, the federal prosecutor said.

"There are at least 60 victims," said prosecutor Freddy Perez. "They didn't even spare pregnant women."

Two young girls are also among the alleged victims, according to the leader of the Mennonite community in Manitoba (1,100 km from La Paz), Peter Kelsner Peters, who was quoted in the El Deber newspaper.

The accused, ranging in age from 18 to 41 years old, targeted the women in the community's dormitories, the press report said.

They sprayed a narcotic substance that rendered the women unconscious and then raped them.

The men were identified after their arrest by one of their victims, who woke up during an attack.

The seven accused, who deny the allegations, are set to appear before a judge Wednesday to be charged, though two remain at large.

Mennonites are orthodox Protestants who reject wealth and power and adhere to a pacifist philosophy.

They live, like the Amish, in isolated communities that accept varying degrees of integration with modern society.

Originally founded in Germany, the religious group left Europe in the 19th century, fleeing persecution.

They settled first in the United States, but spread to South America and around 30-40,000 today live in Paraguay and in Bolivia, where they have agricultual colonies in the provinces of Beni and Santa Cruz.