More than a dozen Afghan mine-clearers abducted in the war-torn country have been released after being kidnapped and robbed at the weekend, officials said on Monday.
The group, working for the Mine Detection and Dog Centre (MDC), were taken to a wooded and mountainous area in eastern Paktya province and robbed of about 50,000 dollars worth of equipment on Saturday.
"Our people have been freed but their equipment and their truck have been stolen. The equipment and the truck were together worth about 50,000 dollars," Shohab Hakimi, the director of the agency, told AFP.
"We believe the abductors were local thieves from a nomadic tribe," he added.
The Taliban, which is leading a deadly insurgency in Afghanistan, have also been responsible for scores of similar kidnappings in the past.
He said 16 of his employees were freed overnight and by early Monday had managed to walk to the nearest village.
An interior ministry spokesman said Sunday that 14 workers from MDC, a private mine-clearing company contracted to the United Nations in Afghanistan, had been seized on Saturday as they were working in Paktya.
Local police confirmed the men were free and said officers were hunting down the abductors in the mountains, about 35 kilometres (20 miles) outside the town of Gardez, in the heart of Paktya.
"We're trying to find the abductors and regain the stolen equipment," Ghulam Dastgir Rustamyar, the deputy provincial police chief of Paktya, told AFP.
Thousands of personnel working to clear Afghanistan of its mines - a legacy from decades of war - are often based in remote areas, making them regular targets of insurgent and criminal attacks.
Twenty-two employees of MDC, which has 1,800 staff working across Afghanistan, have been killed since 2001, mainly in areas where the Taliban still have influence, the group told AFP last year.