ADEN (Reuters) - Fighting between the Yemeni army and militants in and around the southern provincial capital of Zinjibar killed at least 12 people on Wednesday, just days after the government declared it had "liberated" the city from Islamist fighters.
An army official said seven militants and one soldier were killed in a suburb of the coastal city, which the army last week recaptured from Islamist fighters suspected of links to al Qaeda's Yemen-based branch.
Four more militants were killed in another part of Zinjibar.
"The militants snuck into the area to try to carry out a suicide attack, but the snipers from the army prevented them and killed seven extremists," said the military official.
Zinjibar, capital of the volatile Abyan province, was seized in May by militants calling themselves Ansar al-Sharia (partisans of Islamic law).
Residents said the army launched Katyusha rockets against pockets of insurgents in the city.
The army later opened artillery fire on militants trying to regroup in a suburb of the city, a security official said, adding that several militants were thought to have been killed.
Separately, Ahmed al-Magidi, governor of the nearby province of Lahej, told Reuters a small number of militants had fled there from Abyan, but he dismissed their significance, saying they could be "counted on the fingers of one hand."
Lahej has absorbed some 15,000 refugees from Abyan, he said adding that there was continued unrest and attacks on checkpoints and buildings, but that attackers were not thought to belong to al Qaeda.
The United States and Saudi Arabia fear lawlessness in Yemen's south will embolden militants to launch strikes on the region and beyond.
Opponents of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, recovering in the Saudi capital Riyadh from a June assassination attempt, have accused him of exaggerating the al Qaeda threat or even manipulating militants as a ploy to scare Washington and Riyadh into backing him.
Saleh is holding onto power despite international pressure to quit and months of protests against his 33-year rule.
(Reporting by Dhu-Yazen Mukhashaf; Writing by Isabel Coles and Firouz Sedarat; Editing by Roger Atwood and Peter Graff)