Two police officers were killed, 16 others injured and eight taken hostage in a clash with coca growers in northern Bolivia, the Interior Ministry said Sunday.
Jhonny Reynaldo Quispe, 29, died Sunday afternoon while receiving emergency care "after having been shot by a firearm during an ambush by an armed group against the Joint Task Forces," the ministry said in a statement.
The other officer died at the scene of the clash, which took place Saturday at the town of Apolo, Interior Minister Carlos Romero told reporters. At least 16 other security officers were wounded by gunfire.
Uniformed members of the task force were carrying out coca eradication with machetes in Apolo "when they were violently ambushed," the ministry said.
The force is tasked with eradicating coca plants in some 26 communities in the Apolo region at the entry of the Amazon, as the government says the crops are illegal. More than 700 coca growers oppose eradication, according to news reports.
Only half of Bolivia's 25,300 hectares of coca crops are for legal uses, according to the United Nations. In the Apolo region, legal coca plantations must not exceed 280 hectares, though there are no precise figures on the scale of the illegal crops.
Noting that the attack was "planned by an armed group with ties to drug trafficking that opposes the eradication of coca," Romero said "they will be punished with the full weight of the law."
The minister said that military and police forces have been deployed to the area to rescue the eight soldiers taken hostage.
Bolivian daily La Razon on Sunday quoted a coca grower from the nearby community of Copacabana as saying the clash occurred after officers violently entered the area and broke "into homes launching tear gas, without respect for the women and children."
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the source said 10 coca growers were also injured in the fighting.