ADEN - Yemeni troops killed four Islamist fighters in a southern town they seized from government control, a local official said on Saturday, but a spokesman for the Islamists denied his side had suffered any casualties.
The fighting in Zinjibar, capital of the southern Abyan province where Islamist bands have taken control of swathes of territory in the last seven months, underlines erosion of central authority which fans US and Saudi fears the state may collapse and give al-Qaida a foothold near oil shipping routes.
Those fears are behind their support for a plan to ease President Ali Abdullah Saleh from office after a year of protests demanding he go which has been punctuated with open war between his forces and those of a rebel general and tribal magnates.
Saleh, who left Yemen this week, has transferred some powers to his deputy and enjoys immunity from prosecution under the deal. It established a transitional government including opposition blocs and envisions restructuring Yemen's armed forces, key units of which are led by Saleh's relatives.