President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said on Monday that 19 hostages, who were part of a group of people kidnapped in southern Afghanistan in February, were released, Xinhua news agency reported."It is a matter of pleasure to announce the release of our 19 countrymen from kidnappers' clutch. They are the guests of the government in Ghazni province and would soon be transported to Kabul," Ghani told a press conference.Unidentified gunmen intercepted two buses in the southern Zabul province in late February and took 31 passengers to an unknown location.Although no group has claimed responsibility for the abduction, security officials did not rule out the involvement of Taliban and militants loyal to the extremist Islamic State outfit.
The president, however, denied paying ransom for the release of the abductees."No money has been paid for the release of our countrymen," he said. "The government policy is against the swap of criminals."A Xinhua earlier on Monday confirmed a provincial official as confirming the release of the 19 hostages. "Following days of local elders' mediation, 19 passengers were freed and they were handed over by the kidnappers in Pahtoo area of Jaghori district in eastern Ghazni province on Monday morning," the district governor Zafar Sharif told Xinhua.Efforts are on to secure the safe release of 12 other captives, the official noted.