LA PAZ – Bolivia’s government said Saturday that three of five mining employees abducted in the southwestern province of Potosi have fled their Indian captors.
Police search-and-rescue operations Friday near the Mallku Khota mine, 350 kilometers (215 miles) south of La Paz, enabled an engineer, a technician and a driver with Canadian mining firm South American Silver – held captive in that area since Monday – to escape, Interior Minister Carlos Romero said.
The three employees “are in a state of nervous stress” due to the psychological pressure they were under and will not talk to the media for the time being, Romero said in a press conference in the Andean city of Oruro, where police took the freed individuals Friday night.
The three, who had been abducted on Monday, were suffering from “moderate dehydration” and “psychological and physical fatigue” but did not have any external injuries, physician Freddy Quispe said.
According to Romero, a female prosecutor who was accompanying the police operations was held for several hours Friday by the Indians but also was freed and has returned to La Paz.
No information is available on the other two abducted South American Silver engineers, who have been held captive for 10 days, while a police officer who became separated from his group also remains missing.
President Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian and the Andean nation’s first indigenous head of state, dispatched nearly 400 police and a delegation headed by Labor Minister Daniel Santalla to Potosi on Thursday in a bid to negotiate the release of the kidnap victims.
One indigenous man was killed and eight people were wounded – including both Indians and police – in a clash that same day.
The Canadian firm has been conducting exploration work in northern Potosi – one of Bolivia’ poorest regions – since 2007 to evaluate its reserves of silver and indium. The massive Mallku Khota mine project mainly contains those two minerals, although it also holds lesser quantities of gold.
One faction of the indigenous people living in the Quechua community of Mallku Khota has been trying to force out the mining company so they can exploit the mine themselves.
They also are demanding the release of their leader, Cancio Rojas, who is under house arrest in Potosi city accused of illegally detaining and torturing other Indians and police officers for several days a few weeks ago as part of the same conflict.
South American Silver unit Compañia Minera Mallku Khota says a majority of the Indian clans in the area support the firm’s activities.
The company’s opponents, led by Rojas, have attacked other Indians and illegally detained police, authorities say.