Saudi Arabia's formal ban on women driving does not apply to American servicewomen, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday.

The ban, announced by the Saudi government Tuesday, followed a demonstration last week in which 49 Saudi women drove through Riyadh in defiance of the conservative country's interpretation of Islamic law."That's strictly an internal Saudi discussion," said U.S. Army Maj. Doug Bidle.

He said U.S. servicewomen would continue to drive only on official military business, as had been the practice since the beginning of the U.S. military deployment that followed Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.

"They can't get in the car and go shopping, for example," Bidle said.

Tuesday's announcement by the Ministry of Information made official a ban that before had been only an unwritten rule. The ministry said the ban was based on a fatwa (religious edict) issued Nov. 5 by Sheikh Abd al-Aziz Bin Abdallah Bin Baz, the nation's chief religious authority.

The women who took part in the demonstration were detained by police for about 11 hours.

They were released only after they signed a pledge not to repeat their action, which they said was inspired in part by the sight of U.S. servicewomen driving.