GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ Six police officers who rushed to save a group of suspected robbers from a mob of vigilantes were taken hostage along with the suspects in Guatemala's northern highlands Monday.

Police said a group of 400 villagers from the Mayan hamlet of Purival, 150 miles north of Guatemala City, captured and was planning to kill a group of men believed to be behind a rash of robberies of trucks along nearby mountain roads.

``The officers went to control a lynching and were taken hostage,'' said Carlos Rey, a volunteer firefighter from the nearby municipality of Coban was at the scene.

Rey said authorities were not sure how many people the mob was holding.

State negotiators, a contingent of national police officers and representatives from the United Nations Mission to Guatemala headed to Purival late Monday to try to ease the situation.

Two Guatemala City radio stations reported that state soldiers arriving in helicopters had surrounding the area, but that they were ordered to keep their distance from the mob so as not to spark further violence.

Purival is located along the crowded highway that links Coban and Guatemala City. Thousands of trucks carrying coffee, bananas and other goods use the route and more than a dozen have been robbed near Purival in the last year.

In September, a mob of 500 locals stormed the police station in nearby Frey Bartolome de las Casas and held two police officers hostage for more than 12 hours after a police truck ran over a woman and injured her. They eventually released one of the officers, and the other escaped.

Last year, vigilante violence claimed 29 victims In Guatemala. In 1999, mob justice killed 42 Guatemalans.