Elena Scotti/FUSION

Residents of Peru’s northern highlands punished two alleged thieves this week by forcing them to stand on anthills until they begged for mercy.

The unusual form of punishment was administered and filmed by Ronda Campesina, a vigilante group famous for whipping and beating suspected criminals in the city of Cajamarca.

The vigilante group says it caught the two suspects trying to pickpocket people inside a local market. From there, they were taken to a nearby hill and forced to stand on anthills.

“That’s how people cry when you steal their things and leave them without nothing,” one of the vigilantes says in the video, as the suspected thieves weep in pain and shuffle as the ants bite their feet, legs, and groins.

“What will you do if we catch you again?” another voice says in the video.

According to the Ronda, the ant-bitten suspects had been caught stealing twice before.

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The vigilante group argues that their punishments are necessary because police aren't tough enough on crime.

Vigilante groups organized by campesino communities are legal in Peru and are quite common in the province of Cajamarca, where they have even managed to detain local officials accused of botching criminal investigations.But some residents claim the self-styled police groups go too far, and in 2013 vigilantes were accused of murdering a local man.

The idea of using ants to punish the pickpockets has gotten a mixed reception in Peru. While some people on Twitter complained that the vigilantes went too far, others welcomed the initiative.

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“Can you come to Lima please?” wrote Leslie Cueva. “We need you here in neighborhoods were even the president hasn’t done anything.”

Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.