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Yemen drives militants from mountain retreat

ADEN, Yemen--Yemeni government forces have driven a group of Islamist insurgents linked to al-Qaida from their mountain retreat in the country's south after killing 21 militants during two days of fighting, a military source said on Saturday.

The army and pro-government militias battled militants on Thursday and Saturday near the town of Shuqra in Abyan province, an impoverished, rugged region of southern Yemen where tribal law holds sway and armed Islamists have a strong presence.

Two soldiers and five militia members were also killed, the source said. Surviving militants fled the area, he added.

Tackling lawlessness in Yemen, which lies near important oil shipment routes and flanks the world's biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia, is an international priority.

Washington and other Western governments regard Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as one of the most dangerous branches of the militant network. It has planned attacks on international targets including airliners and pledges to topple Saudi Arabia's ruling family.

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