SANAA - More than 50 Yemenis were killed by mines planted by al-Qaida-linked fighters as they fled two of their main strongholds in Yemen's restive south this month, the defense ministry said on Saturday.

Ansar al-Sharia, a group which swears allegiance to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, seized control of several cities in Abyan province last year during a wave of protests that forced former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

Yemen's army drove the militants out of the provincial capital Zinjibar and strategic city Jaar this month, a major breakthrough in a US-backed offensive aimed at securing stability in the wider oil-rich Gulf region.

The militants planted thousands of mines before they left the strongholds, the defense ministry said on its website, citing Ahmed Ghaleb al-Rahwi, the deputy governor of Abyan.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger