KABUL - Afghan security forces on Tuesday freed 19 mine clearance workers kidnapped in the east of the country, authorities said.

The country’s National Security Directorate said in a statement the Afghans, working for a U.S.-funded clearance programme in Paktia province, had been seized by the Haqqani network, a Taliban-allied militant group. It gave no details of the rescue operation. A separate statement by the Ministry of Interior said the de-miners were freed by Afghan forces following mediation by local elders.

The abducted 19 were employees of Sterling Demining Afghanistan, which holds mine-clearing contracts throughout the country. Officials said earlier they had been kidnapped on Sunday. In addition to the increasingly deadly Taliban insurgency, kidnappings have become more common in Afghanistan, making many people afraid to travel on highways.

On Saturday, gunmen who had kidnapped four ethnic Hazara men in the southern province of Ghazni beheaded their captives. The Hazara men had been kidnapped on Tuesday last week while travelling to buy livestock. Another 31 Hazaras kidnapped from two buses in February are still missing.