The United Nations has brought mine clearance work in Afghanistan to an earlier-than-scheduled halt following the 12-hour abduction of a local worker.

The United Nations says gunmen near the southeastern town of Ghazni kidnapped and later released an Afghan driver, stealing his car, money and documents. The driver had been working with a U.N.-led de-mining operation on the road connecting the capital Kabul with the southern city of Kandahar.

U.N. officials say militant attacks on aid workers in Afghanistan have increased dramatically over the past nine months.

In the latest incident, a team of gunmen took the driver to a nearby village and kept him at a local mosque overnight.

A spokesman for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, David Singh, says that de-mining work on the road has been stopped as a result.

He says, however, that the main road is already clear of mines, and that the only work still in progress at the time of the abduction was on a trail used by nomads.

Mr. Singh says the halt to the southeastern de-mining operation is of minor importance itself, as it was already slated to be stopped for the winter within a week's time.

But he says the overall threat to people trying to remove mines is cause for grave concern.

"In light of the fact that Afghanistan is one of the most mined countries in the world, where mines and unexploded ordinance kill or injure up to 200 people per month, we once again reiterate our condemnation of attacks against courageous de-miners who risk their lives every day," he said.

The incident closely follows the murder of a French U.N. refugee agency worker, which also took place in Ghazni. That attack prompted a general freeze of U.N. travel in Afghanistan and a review of security measures.

Two men blamed for the killing are now in custody, and are said to be militants loyal to Afghanistan's former hard-line Taleban government.

The victim was buried Friday in a Kabul cemetery, in accordance with her wishes.