|Defence Minister General Mohammed Nasser Ali is a loyal ally of President Ali Abdullah Saleh [Reuters]
Yemen's defence minister has narrowly escaped death after his convoy drove over a landmine in the country's volatile south region of Abyan.
General Mohammed Nasser Ali was driving in a convoy on Tuesday when "two soldiers were killed and four others were wounded in an explosion of a device near the village of Al-Kud," a government official told the Reuters news agency.
Ali "escaped unhurt," said the official, adding the two men who were killed were bodyguards of the south's military commander, General Mehdi Maqwala, who had been accompanying Ali.
"We have reports that al-Qaeda has planted 150 explosive devices in areas it controls, and the explosion today could be due to one of these devices," the official added.
The minister was on his way to an end of Ramadan inspection of brigades in Abyan, whose capital Zinjibar has been occupied by al-Qaeda linked fighters since the end of May.
On Monday suspected al-Qaeda gunmen killed 10 Yemeni soldiers and wounded several others at Dofes village, near Zinjibar.
In the latest clashes in the area on Tuesday, military shelling killed "six al-Qaeda fighters," whose bodies were taken to hospital in the village of Jaar, according to a local official.
Since the end of May, fighters linked to al-Qaeda have seized control of several Abyan towns, taking advantage of the weakening of central authority amid nationwide protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Ali is a staunch supporter of Saleh, who has been recovering in Saudi Arabia for more than two months from bomb blast wounds.