An Indian faction in the Andean highlands of western Bolivia kidnapped two mining engineers in a bid to force authorities to release the group's jailed leader, the government said Friday.

Fernando Fernandez and Agustin Cardenas, employees of a Bolivian subsidiary of Canada's South American Silver, were seized by residents of Malku Khota, a town 350 kilometers (217 miles) south of La Paz.

"What they have done is a kidnapping, it's an offense, it's a crime," Interior Minister Carlos Romero told Cadena A television.

He said the leader the captors want released, Cancio Rojas, "is detained by the order of a competent judicial authority because he is accused of kidnapping, torture and other offenses."

The two engineers are "at serious risk given the aggressiveness and intolerance with which these groups behave," the South American Silver subsidiary, Compañia Minera Malku Khota, said in a statement.

One faction of the indigenous people living in the area have been trying to force out the mining company, whose operations they see as an obstacle to their own efforts to mine gold.

Compañia Minera Malku Khota, which is evaluating the zone's potential for silver production, says a majority of the Indian clans - known as ayllus - in the area support the firm's project.

The company's opponents, led by Cancio Rojas, have attacked other Indians and held police hostage, authorities say. EFE