The Defence Ministry says 21 al—Qaeda militants were killed on Saturday. Abyan provincial officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to release the information, say nine soldiers were also killed.

Officials say as many as 30 Islamic militants and soldiers have been killed in fighting for control of southern areas in Yemen.

In a twist, local officials say the army commander trying to rout militants from the Zinjibar and Jaar areas has joined a protest movement seeking to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Gen. Faisal Ragab, commander of Battalion 119, defected in March.

The Defence Ministry says 21 al—Qaeda militants were killed on Saturday. Abyan provincial officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to release the information, say nine soldiers were also killed.

Mr. Saleh is in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment but refuses to step down. The U.S. is worried that al—Qaeda’s branch in Yemen will take advantage of the instability.

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