ADEN, April 20 Yemeni troops have made advances
in an offensive against al Qaeda-linked militants near the
southern city of Zinjibar, killing 18 insurgents, the Defence
Ministry said on Friday.
It said on its website that the militants were pushed back
on Thursday from several positions near Zinjibar, capital of
Abyan province, a stronghold of Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of
Islamic Law), a group affiliated with al Qaeda.
Yemen slipped into a state of chaos after the outbreak of
protests more than a year ago that ousted former president Ali
Abdullah Saleh under a deal brokered by Gulf neighbours.
On Thursday, the ministry said six militants were killed in
Zinjibar and seven in Lawdar, another town in Abyan.
More than 200 people have been killed since government
forces stepped up attacks on the militants whom it accused of
assaulting a military camp near Lawdar last week.
Exploiting weakened central government control, Islamist
insurgents have taken control of a number of cities in the
territory which is close to key shipping lanes in the Red Sea.
The website said security forces had uncovered an al Qaeda
plot to use six vehicles packed with explosives to launch
suicide attacks on gas facilities in Belhaf in the southern
Yemen's oil and gas pipelines have been repeatedly
sabotaged, causing disruptions is exports by the small producer.
The government has regularly reported al Qaeda plots to
launch further attacks, but it has not been possible to confirm
the reports independently.
France's Total gas pipeline to Balhaf was last
blown up in March, hours after a U.S. drone attack killed at
least five militants.
New President, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who took office
vowing to fight al Qaeda, is also facing challenges from Shi'ite
Muslim rebels in the north and secessionists in the south.
(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Firouz Sedarat)