At least 21 killed in fresh clashes between militants and Yemen army

Renewed fighting between troops and Al Qaeda-linked militants in the southern city of Lawdar and a militant attack on a checkpoint in central Maarib province kills at least 21.

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SANAA // At least 21 people were killed in Yemen yesterday in renewed fighting between troops and Al Qaeda-linked militants in the southern city of Lawdar and a militant attack on a checkpoint in central Maarib province, officials and residents said.

Eight soldiers and five militants were killed and four soldiers wounded when Al Qaeda-linked gunmen in vehicles attacked an army checkpoint in Abar, 300 kilometres east of Sanaa, in Maarib province, a local official said.

In Lawdar, where 57 people were killed on Monday in clashes between government forces and Ansar Al Sharia, six militants and two tribal gunmen fighting alongside the army died in renewed clashes.

Abdrabbu Mansur Hadi, the president who took over in February after a year of mass protests against his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, is under pressure from Washington to fight the increasingly strong branch of Al Qaeda in his country.

Ansar Al Sharia said on Monday it had captured four tanks and anti-aircraft guns and a large cache of arms and ammunition in fighting with government troops in Lawdar.

It also said in a statement that military officials had exaggerated when they said 40 militants had been killed in Monday's fighting in Lawdar - but that its own fighters had killed 50 soldiers during the day.

Residents said fighting intensified yesterday with warplanes bombing two sites held by the militants, destroying at least one of the tanks the group had seized.

A defence ministry website said some of the militants killed on Monday were foreigners, including some Saudis.

Ansar Al Sharia seized control of part of the southern province of Abyan during the turmoil that led to Mr Hadi replacing Mr Saleh as president. A split in the army during that period threatened to start a civil war.

Saudi Arabia and the United States backed the transfer of power to Mr Hadi in the hope that it would help prevent the country sliding into chaos, which might have enabled Al Qaeda to establish a foothold near key oil shipping routes.

Conflict with Islamists in the south is only one of several challenges facing Mr Hadi, who took office vowing to fight Al Qaeda only to have more than 100 soldiers killed in attacks by militants in his first few days in power.

Yemen's main airport in Sanaa was paralysed for a day on Saturday when officers and tribesmen loyal to Mr Saleh forced it to close in protest at the sacking of the air force commander, a half-brother of Saleh. A government official said they backed down only after pressure from the United States and Gulf countries, which had crafted the deal that made Hadi president.