- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 10, 2012

SANAA, Yemen — Heavy clashes overnight between al Qaeda-linked militants and the Yemeni military in the country’s south have killed 63 people, bringing the two-day death toll in the fighting to 127, army officials said Tuesday.

The latest fighting points to escalating hostilities between the government and militants linked to the terror network who have sought to take advantage of the turmoil roiling the country since a popular uprising began early last year against longtime authoritarian leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The militants seized control of towns in the lawless south and staged attacks against government troops there and elsewhere in the impoverished Arab nation.

The military officials said the fighting that broke out in the town of Lawder in Abyan province early Monday spilled over into Tuesday, with the army shelling militant hideouts in an effort to prevent the militants from sending reinforcements.


They said 56 militants, four soldiers and three tribal fighters were killed overnight and early Tuesday.

Fighting also erupted Tuesday along the border of Shabwa and Marib provinces, where militants ambushed an army post. Eight soldiers and three militants were killed in that attack, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Al Qaeda was once present in Lawder, but in July residents drove it out. A few months later, al Qaeda was blamed for planting a roadside bomb that killed two civilians there, and, as Monday’s attack demonstrates, it continues to try to regain its foothold.

For the militants, Lawder is a strategic city. It lies along a major highway that links Abyan’s provincial capital of Zinjibar, an al Qaeda stronghold, to the provinces of Hadramawt, Bayda and Shabwa, where the group is active.

The area is now a patchwork of government- and militant-controlled towns.

Inspired by Arab revolts elsewhere, Yemen’s popular uprising forced Mr. Saleh out of office in February. His successor and former deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, was later rubber-stamped as president in a single-candidate nationwide vote that was part of a power-transfer deal backed by the U.S. and Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.