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11 Pakistani teachers kidnapped during polio campaign released: officials

By Jibran Ahmed

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Militants released on Tuesday 11 teachers who had been kidnapped in Pakistan's lawless northwest during a polio vaccination campaign last week, local officials said.

The teachers were seized by Islamist militants on November 21 from a school in the Khyber tribal agency, one of the semi autonomous tribal areas along border with Afghanistan.

They were abducted just after a team giving polio vaccinations had left the school and the militants may have mistaken them for the polio team, Khyber official Niaz Ahmad Khan said.

They were moved to an area controlled by militant leader Mangal Bagh and his Taliban-affiliated group, Lashkar-e-Islam.

Khan said a group of tribal elders, known as a jirga, was sent to secure the teachers' release.

"The militants cooperated with the jirga members and freed all the abducted...teachers," said Khan.

A tribal elder, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the militants freed the teachers on condition the government stop sending polio teams to the area.

Gunmen frequently attack polio vaccination workers, accusing them of being Western spies and part of a plot to sterilize Muslims.

A global eradication campaign has reduced polio cases by 99.9 percent in the last three decades, but it remains endemic in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The disease is highly infectious and can cause irreversible paralysis.

(Refiles to amend byline)

(Editing by Dylan Welch and Ron Popeski)

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