Security forces, gunmen fight in Yemen; 8 dead

Five Yemeni soldiers and three suspected al Qaeda gunmen were killed in clashes on Saturday in a volatile southern province, a security official told CNN.

Fighting between security forces and suspected militants erupted in the city of Lawdar in Abyan province, the same region where government forces have been fighting Islamic militants who seized the town of Zinjibar.

Clashes also raged in Zinjibar on Saturday as heavy gunfire and explosions were heard through the city, planes were seen flying overhead and conducting airstrikes, witnesses and residents said.

The security official, who has asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said Yemen’s government is also conducting air raids on positions in Lawdar believed to be held by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

At least seven people were injured in the fighting but it’s not clear whether they were soldiers or militants. Eyewitnesses said militants torched three government tanks in the fighting, which they say started when the insurgents surrounded a military camp in Lawdar on Friday night.

AQAP, al Qaeda’s Yemen wing, has a strong presence in Abyan.

Yemen has been consumed with unrest for months as protesters demand an end to the rule of President Ali Abdullah Salah.

In recent weeks, government troops have battled both anti-government tribal forces and Islamic militants.

The chaos there intensified when Saleh and other senior officials were injured in a June 3 attack on the mosque at the presidential palace.

Saleh and other senior officials injured in the attack went to Saudi Arabia for treatment. A government spokesman on Thursday said Saleh was in good health and would be returning to Yemen “within days.”

On Friday, Demonstrations erupted in several cities across Yemen, with protesters chanting “Saleh will fall” and “The end is near for Saleh,” according to eyewitnesses.

A six-nation Gulf Arab alliance has tried to broker a government-opposition agreement that would lead to Saleh’s departure, but that effort has so far been unsuccessful.

( / 11.06.2011)

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