– File Photo by Reuters

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan: Gunmen in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt released a journalist they had held hostage for two months, a local official and residents said Thursday.

Masked and carrying guns, the kidnappers abducted Rehmatullah Darpakhel on August 11, in Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, a known hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants such as the Haqqani network.

“Rehmatullah Darpakhel has been freed and has returned home. He was freed unconditionally,” Mohammad Amin, a government official in Miranshah, told AFP.

His release was brokered by tribal elders and on Wednesday Darpakhel was welcomed home by hundreds of tribesmen shooting into the air, a local tradition in times of celebration, residents said.

In August, the UN human rights commissioner urged Pakistan to investigate a spate of killings and kidnappings of journalists, including that of Darpakhel.

According to press watchdog Reporters without Borders, Pakistan has been the world's deadliest country for the media in 2011 with at least eight journalists killed in connection with their work.

Faisal Qureshi, 28, a journalist working for a London-based online news site was murdered last week in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore. Reporter Saleem Shahzad was found dead on May 31 after disappearing in Islamabad.

The US military's then top officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, said Islamabad may have sanctioned Shahzad's killing.

Shahzad told Human Rights Watch he had been threatened by intelligence agents. He wrote about links between rogue navy officials and al Qaeda shortly after US troops killed Osama bin Laden in the garrison city of Abbottabad.

On Thursday, officials in Pakistan's tribal district of Bajaur said two youths from a group of more than 30 kidnapped by the Taliban in early September, had fled captivity in neighbouring Afghanistan to return home.

The group was kidnapped after straying across the border from Bajaur during celebrations marking the Muslim Eid holiday.

“The two boys Abdullah and Amanullah, aged 18 and 16 years, returned home Wednesday night,” local administration official, Islam Zeb, told AFP.

“We will try and extract more information from the boys as soon as they have had some rest,” he said, adding that they were physically fit with no signs of torture.

Afghanistan shares a disputed and unmarked 2,400-kilometre (1,500-mile) border with Pakistan.

Taliban and other al Qaeda-linked militants have carved out strongholds on either side that are used to fight security forces from both governments.

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