At least 80 Shia Muslim fighters have been killed in violence in Yemen, according to Yemeni government officials.
The officials' statement on Wednesday comes two weeks after sporadic fighting again broke out in the northern province of Saada between followers of Abdul-Malek al-Huthi, a Shia tribal leader, and government troops.
"We have killed at least 80 people who are fighting with al-Huthi," a senior government official was reported as saying.
A close aide to al-Huthi, who asked not to be named, said the government figure was inaccurate.
"They are exaggerating, I cannot count all the corpses, but they are a lower number," he said. "Huthi is in good health and taking care of his men."
The aide said al-Huthi's followers had tried to open channels for talks with the authorities, but had received no response.
Officials say at least 40 Yemeni soldiers have been killed in the fighting since January 27, when followers of al-Huthi launched a mortar attack on security buildings, killing six soldiers and wounding 20 others.
Residents of the mountainous northern province said al-Huthi's men were stationed on hilltops using machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, making it difficult for troops to drive them out.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, announced an army crack down on al-Huthi's followers last month, saying al-Huthi and his group were trying to install Shia religious rule in the country and were preaching violence against the US.
Sunni Muslims make up most of Yemen's 19 million population, while about 15 per cent are Shia Muslims.
Yemen joined the US's so-called "war on terror" after the September 11, 2001 attack on New York's World Trade Centre, but al-Huthi's supporters are not thought to be linked to al-Qaeda.