Reuters International

By Hafiz Wazir and Jibran Ahmed

WANA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Seven Pakistani government workers kidnapped near the Afghan border were freed on Monday, an official said, after government representatives detained local villagers under a colonial-era law of "collective responsibility".

The officials, abducted in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region in March and later taken to Afghanistan, were handed over to Pakistani authorities on Monday, Zafrul Islam, the political agent for South Waziristan, told Reuters.

"They are safe and sound and now I am taking them to South Waziristan's headquarters, Wana," Islam said.

He did not say if a ransom was paid, or which militant faction was responsible.

But he confirmed that most of the 22 tribesmen who had been arrested in a "collective responsibility" punishment by the local government administration had already been freed.

None of the 22 tribesmen was suspected of direct involvement in the officials' abduction, but laws governing the tribal regions inherited from British colonialists allow for such retaliatory detentions.

In 2009, Pakistan's army poured 40,000 troops into South Waziristan to fight Islamist militants including the Taliban.

(Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Kay Johnson and Nick Macfie)

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 Reuters International