Eight die as Yemeni troops fight southern rebels

ADEN Fri Jun 10, 2011 6:09am EDT

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ADEN (Reuters) - Suspected separatists attacked a Yemeni military checkpoint in the south of the country on Friday, with five soldiers and three rebels dying in the fighting, officials and witnesses said.

The rebels attacked on the outskirts al-Habilayn, a city in Lahj province in the south where an armed movement is demanding independence or broad regional autonomy.

It was the first such clash in the area for about three months, the officials said.

Yemen plunged into civil war in 1994 after the unification of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's north with South Yemen, formerly a Soviet-backed republic. People in the south accuse the state of neglecting them.

Neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United States fear Yemen may collapse into complete chaos, giving a foothold to al Qaeda, following months of protests demanding Saleh's overthrow after three decades in power.

Supporters of Saleh, who was wounded in an attack on his palace last week and forced to have surgery in Saudi Arabia, say he will return to rule, while his tribal and other opponents say he will never resume power.

(Reporting by Mohammmed Mukhashaf, Writing by Joseph Logan; editing by David Stamp)

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