By Bashirullah Khan

Miran Shah, Pakistan - Nine Pakistani government officials kidnapped by suspected militants last week in the restive tribal region of North Waziristan were freed Wednesday, one of the officials said.

The nine, including six women, were being transported to the main north-western city of Peshawar, Zahir Ullah told The Associated Press by phone.

"We were freed today. I can't tell you who had held us. We have arrived at Bannu and will be going to Peshawar," he said. Bannu is a town located near North Waziristan, a lawless region near the Afghan border where Taliban and al-Qaeda militants are active.

Initially, the government had said eight officials were in the party abducted late Friday when their vehicle was ambushed by gunmen as they inspected development sites for new schools, roads and hospitals. But Ullah said there were nine officials.

The motive for their abduction was not immediately clear, and it was not known where they had been held.

Militants have expanded their influence in North Waziristan since a September 2006 peace deal with Pakistan's government - a key ally of the United States in its war on terror - ended months of bloody fighting between pro-Taliban tribesmen and security forces.

Since then, the deal has held, although the government has carried out operations to target suspected al-Qaeda hideouts, triggering protests by the residents and local militants.

On Tuesday, Pakistani security forces backed by helicopter gunships attacked a militant training camp in North Waziristan, killing four suspected militants, the army said. - Sapa-AP