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Red Cross official kidnapped in Yemen

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A French official of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been kidnapped by armed men while travelling from northern Yemen to the Red Sea port city of Hudaida.

The kidnapping of the official, whose identity was not disclosed, comes amid renewed fighting between the military and the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda in the southern city of Zinjibar that left 19 people killed.

Dibeh Fakhr, an ICRC spokeswoman in Sanaa, said that the man, who works in the northern city of Saada, was kidnapped late on Saturday, about 30 km from Hudaida.

"He was with two Yemeni drivers who the kidnappers released shortly afterwards," Fakhr said.

"Until now we have no contact with the kidnappers or our employee."

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the kidnapping but seizing foreigners or Yemenis is common in
Yemen, and most hostages are freed unharmed.

Unrest in Abyan

In Zinjibar, meanwhile, officials said that 12 Yemeni al-Qaeda fighters and seven soldiers died and nearly 30 fighters were injured during clashes between the group and government forces, who have taken control of the eastern part of the strategic city.

The battle is part of attempts by the Yemeni government to regain parts of the country it lost to al-Qaeda fighters who took advantage of last year's chaotic uprising against the former ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to seize new ground.

Zinjibar, a coastal city, is the capital of Abyan province, and driving al-Qaeda out of it would loosen its grip over Yemen's southern territories. The city also lies near vital shipping lanes through which millions of barrels of oil pass every day.

The fighters buried their dead in the nearby town of Jaar and turned a kindergarten there into a field hospital to treat their injured, medical officials said.

The school was also being used as a command centre by the fighters, the officials said.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Government admission

In Lawder, another town in Abyan, at least 250 al-Qaeda fighters and 37 government soldiers had been killed in two weeks of fighting, the Yemeni defence ministry said on Friday.

Government forces are trying to repel efforts by al-Qaeda fighters to regain control over the town which it lost last summer when residents took up arms and pushed the fighters out.

The ministry said on Saturday it was sending more troops to the south in a sign of the intensifying fight there.

The war on al-Qaeda is one of the most challenging tests facing Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Yemen's new president.

He took power after Saleh stepped down in February as part of power-transfer deal brokered by Arab Gulf countries and backed by the US.

The US believes the Yemen branch of al-Qaeda is the most dangerous arm of the group because of its repeated attempts to carry out attacks in the US.


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