Middle East
Yemen troops 'reclaim' southern city
Military says it has wrested Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, from al-Qaeda-linked fighters.
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2011 16:19
Yemen army's 25th brigade had been confined to its base since al-Qaeda-linked fighters took over Zinjibar in May [EPA]

Yemen's army has taken control of the capital of southern Abyan province from fighters suspected of having links to al-Qaeda, the state news agency said, citing the provincial governor and military officers.

Troops re-took contol of Zinjibar on Saturday following nearly four months of control by al-Qaeda-linked fighters, officials said.

General Mohammad al-Somali, a Yemeni military official, told Reuters news agency the army had managed to relieve a brigade that had been confined to its base near the city.

The 25th brigade was besieged when the fighters took control of Zinjibar in May.

But a military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press news agency that government forces had managed to "liberate" the eastern part of Zinjibar, and that fighting was still taking place in other neighborhoods of the city.

If the army is able maintain its foothold in Zinjibar, this would mark the military's first concrete gains against the fighters since they launched an offensive several months ago.

'Pursuing militants'

Al-Somali earlier told Reuters that provisions were delivered to the brigade and that the army had entered Zinjibar to reinforce efforts to drive out the fighters, many of whom had already fled towards Jaar, another town they had taken over in Abyan.

"We are pursuing limited pockets of militants, but the real battle will be to purify the town of Jaar," said al-Somali.

Meanwhile, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Saturday "congratulated the heroes of the armed and security forces for ending the blockade by al-Qaeda militants in Abyan on the 25th Mechanised Brigade that has lasted more than three months," a statement on the state news agency Saba said.

Opponents of President Saleh accuse him of exaggerating the threat of al-Qaeda and even encouraging militancy to scare Washington and Riyadh into backing him.

The United States and Saudi Arabia fear lawlessness in Yemen's south will give al-Qaeda's local branch more room to launch attacks in the region and beyond.

Saleh is clinging onto power despite international pressure on him to quit and months of protests against his 33-year rule.

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