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'Taliban free eight officials in Pak'

Pakistani Taliban militants have released eight of around two dozen Govt officials kidnapped more than 2 weeks ago in a restive northwestern region.

world Updated: Jul 25, 2008 16:13 IST

Pakistani Taliban militants have released eight of around two dozen government officials kidnapped more than two weeks ago in a restive northwestern region, a tribal elder said on Friday.

The officials were abducted on July 9 in retaliation for the arrest of seven militants in troubled Hangu district near the Afghan border. The army wrapped up a week-long anti-extremist operation in Hangu this week.

"Taliban have released eight government officials as a goodwill gesture after a jirga (tribal elders' delegation) held talks with them in Orakzai tribal district," Maulana Hussain Asghar told AFP.

Orakzai, one of Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, adjoins Hangu.

Those released belong to the police, banking, telephone and electricity supply departments, Asghar said. There was no word on the reminaing hostages.

The Taliban said earlier they were holding 29 government officials including paramilitary soldiers, while the interior ministry has put the number at 19.

Asghar said that the Taliban are demanding the release of their arrested colleagues, including one named Rafiud Din, who has been identified by the government as a deputy of top Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud.

The Taliban said Din is only a teacher at an Islamic religious school.

The army said on Wednesday that 20 militants and 16 soldiers were killed in the operation to clear Hangu of militants. Another 17 paramilitary troops were killed in an ambush in the region on July 12.

Pakistan is battling a resurgence in Islamist violence after a brief lull brought about by the new government's negotiations with Taliban militants in the tribal belt.

Washington has warned that Al-Qaeda is rebuilding in Pakistan's tribal areas for a possible terrorist attack on US soil and to strike at international forces in Afghanistan.