BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese official said Tuesday that authorities were on their way to rescue a group of mentally ill workers who state media reports said were enslaved in a factory and given dog food to eat.

The official with the civil affairs bureau in Qu county in the southwestern province of Sichuan said authorities took a flight early Tuesday to the western region of Xinjiang.

"We are going to rescue them and help them with their rights," said the official, who would give only his surname Tang.

State media reports have said 11 workers, including eight mentally ill people, were sold to a building materials factory in Xinjiang to work without pay. The reports cited authorities as saying the workers were given no protective gear and ate the same food as the factory leader's dogs.

The state-run Global Times reported that a man named Zeng Lingquan has been detained and accused of selling the workers to the Jiaersi Green Construction Material Chemical Factory. The report did not say if anyone from the factory had been arrested.

Reports said the factory claimed that Zeng had founded a beggars' adoption agency in Qu county. No such agency is registered there.

There is no telephone number listed for the factory. At the Tuokexun county government in Xinjiang, where the factory is based, telephones rang unanswered.

China has had other cases of mentally ill people being abused as laborers.

In May 2009, police in the eastern province of Anhui arrested 10 men for allegedly enslaving more than 30 mentally handicapped people who were forced to work at brick kilns.

Hundreds of brick kiln slaves, many of them handicapped, were freed in raids in 2007 in northern China.