KANDAHAR:

Gunmen have released nine mine clearers held hostage for four days in Afghanistan's restive southern province of Kandahar, officials said Saturday. The men, all Afghans, were being driven back from a minefield on Monday when they were seized in Maiwand district, provincial spokesman Jawid Faisal told AFP. "The nine kidnapped de-miners were released by their captors in Maiwand yesterday (Friday)," he said.

"Their release were made possible with the help of local elders."

Faisal blamed the Taliban for the kidnapping, though the insurgent group denied any involvement.

It was not confirmed who the de-miners worked for, but there are scores of clearance teams working to rid Afghanistan of landmines and other ordnance left over from more than three decades of war.