Qaeda left: Its landmines remain in southern Yemen
ADEN(Yemen) - Landmines planted in Yemen's southern province of Abyan by Al-Qaeda militants before they were driven out from the area have killed at least 35 people in the past 10 days, officials said on Saturday.
Twenty-seven people have been killed only in the provincial capital of Zinjibar, while eight died on the outskirts of the town of Jaar, the officials said.
"Landmine explosions in Zinjibar have left 27 people dead" since the army, backed by local militiamen, drove out Al-Qaeda militants from the capital of the province on June 13, said Zinjibar deputy mayor Ghassan Sheikh.
He said of the 27 people killed, nine died on June 14 while returning to Zinjibar from where they had fled after the militants seized it in May 2011, local official Mohsen Saleh said.
Sheikh said the Yemeni army has so far been unable to clear all the landmines planed by Al-Qaeda, adding the explosives were sown in most streets of Zinjibar.
"Most of Zinjibar's residents have been unable to return yet" from the main southern city of Aden to their town which has been totally destroyed by the fighting, he said.
Eight other civilians were killed in similar landmine blasts on the outskirts of the nearby town of Jaar which was a major stronghold of Al-Qaeda since last year, rights activist Wahid Abdullah said.
Taking advantage of a weakening central government control by an Arab Spring-inspired uprising last year, the militants had overrun most of Abyan, capturing Zinjibar, Jaar, Shuqra and several other villages.
But on May 12, Yemen's military launched an all-out offensive to recapture the lost province. The army and local militiamen have succeeded in taking over all of Abyan's towns except for Mahfad.
On Friday, the new top army commander for the south, Major-General Naser al-Taheri, vowed to continue the fight against Al-Qaeda.
He replaced General Salem Ali Qoton who was assassinated by an Al-Qaeda suicide bomber on Monday.
Taheri vowed that his predecessor's killing will only "make us more determined... to hunt these terrorist groups in their hideouts until the nation is cleansed from their evil," state news agency Saba quoted him as saying.
Qoton, who had led the five-week-long offensive against the jihadists in Abyan and Shabwa provinces was killed along with two of his aides, when a Somali suicide bomber threw himself on his vehicle in the regional capital Aden.
US officials have repeatedly described Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as the most dangerous of the jihadist network's worldwide affiliates.