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Yemen govt, southern separatists clash over Zinjibar

Fighters from of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) fire towards positions of Saudi-backed government forces during clashes in the southern Abyan province
Fighters from of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) fire towards positions of Saudi-backed government forces during clashes in the southern Abyan province Nabil HASAN AFP
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Aden (AFP)

Fighting broke out Monday between government troops and separatists in southern Yemen, officials said, in the first major clash since the Southern Transitional Council declared self-rule over the region.

The two sides fought for control of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, the separatist STC said.aden

Government troops launched an offensive on the outskirts of Zinjibar, some 60 kilometres (35 miles) from the main southern city of Aden, sources from both sides told AFP.

An STC official, Nabil al-Hanachi, told AFP that they managed to "stop the attack and kill many of them", without giving figures.

Video footage showed government armoured vehicles on fire, as STC forces celebrated their "victory".

The fighting complicates Yemen's five-year war between the government -- backed by a Saudi-led military coalition -- and Iran-backed Huthi rebels who control much of the north, including the capital Sanaa.

The government and the STC have technically been allies in the long war against the Huthis.

But the separatists in the south, which used to be an independent country, have agitated to break away again -- a campaign that was temporarily put to rest with a power-sharing deal signed in Riyadh last November.

On April 26, however, the STC declared self-rule in southern Yemen, accusing the government of failing to carry out its duties and of "conspiring" against their cause.

Over the past six years, the Yemen conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, and triggered what the UN considers to be the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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