Maoist rebels have freed at least 18 policemen and soldiers who were taken hostage during fierce fighting in eastern Nepal (search) last month, the Red Cross said Monday.

The 12 police and six soldiers were handed over to the Red Cross at Sindhuli, about 100 miles southeast of the capital, Katmandu, the agency said in a statement.

They were taken to a nearby city and handed over to local officials, the statement said.

The Red Cross (search) did not say when the hostages were freed, or on what conditions. They were taken captive during fighting June 19 and 22 in two districts in eastern Nepal.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has in the past negotiated hostage releases with the rebels, who claim to be inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong (search).

Rebel violence has continued to escalate since King Gyanendra (search) seized absolute power in February, citing the need to quell the Maoist insurgency, which has left more than 11,500 dead in nine years.