Hostages Released in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Gunmen released unharmed dozens of students and teachers they had taken hostage at a school in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, the government said.

The six gunmen, who had barged into the school near the town of Bannu after a chase and firefight with police, gave themselves up to a delegation of tribal negotiators after a five-hour standoff, in which security forces surrounded the school, Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said.

One of the negotiators, former lawmaker Shar Abdul Aziz, said that in return for releasing the captives and giving up their weapons, the gunmen were given safe passage and had since left for an unknown place. Local police declined to comment on that report.

The police chase began after the gunmen abducted the health chief of neighboring Karak district and two of his relatives, who were later freed unharmed.

A seventh gunman died in a subsequent firefight, while a policeman was wounded.

"It was incidental that those criminals entered the school," Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told a news conference during a visit to London. "It has been resolved peacefully."

Aziz said the gunmen had threatened to kill the children, teachers and themselves if anyone attacked them, so negotiations were held to end the standoff without further bloodshed.