A woman died after being mistaken for a car thief and tied to a tree infested with poisonous ants.

The Sun reports that the 52-year-old was rescued by police but died in hospital after her windpipe was bitten by the insects and her throat swelled up.

The woman had gone to help her son, also accused of car theft, who was bound to a tree by vigilantes on New Year's Eve in Caranavi in Bolivia, around 160km northeast of the capital La Paz.

Her son and daughter, who were also accused of theft, received the same punishment but they survived and are now recovering from their injuries.

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Reports said the trio were also beaten and burned using accelerant.

Local authorities said preliminary investigations had showed the dead woman and her children, aged 22 and 28, had travelled to the area from La Paz to recover a debt.

The tree they were tied to was a palo santo, the favourite haunt of colonies of the Brazilian fire ant known for their extremely painful bites.

Police Chief Gunter Agudo said: "We managed to rescue all three people but one of them, the 52-year-old woman, was in a bad way and had to be taken to hospital.

"She died at 3.30pm on New Year's Eve.

"Initially the investigation was opened as a probe into an attempted car theft but now it has been changed to a murder and serious assault investigation."