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Houthi-government clashes leave 48 dead in southern Yemen, military says

Fighting flared despite ceasefire that paved way for ongoing peace talks in Kuwait
Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have helped clear rebels from most of Shabwa and four other southern provinces (AFP)

Fierce fighting between government forces and Houthi rebels in southern Yemen on Sunday claimed the lives of 48 fighters - 28 insurgents and 20 soldiers - a senior military officer said.

"A total of 28 Houthis and 20 of our men were killed in the fighting, which continued into the evening," said General Misfer al-Harithi, who commands the army's 19th Infantry Battalion.

More than 6,400 people have been killed in Yemen since a Saudi-led coalition began a campaign in March 2015 against the Iran-backed rebels.

Harithi said the clashes erupted when rebels and allied forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh attacked government positions in Bayhan district on the border between Shabwa and Marib provinces.

Troops then counter-attacked and pushed the rebels back. "Our forces managed to recapture several positions," Harithi said. "We will not stop fighting until we take control of the entire sector," he added.

The area where the fighting is taking place is the only part of Shabwa province still controlled by the rebels.

Forces loyal to President Abd Rabbuh Hadi, backed by the firepower of the Saudi-led coalition, managed to drive rebels out of Shabwa and four other southern provinces last summer.

Sunday's fighting flared despite an early April ceasefire that paved the way for ongoing peace talks in Kuwait.

'Progress' in peace talks welcomed

In related news, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Sunday welcomed "progress" in the Yemen peace talks, saying a solution to the conflict in the battered Arabian Peninsula country must be political, not military.

Speaking in Saudi Arabia at the start of a three-day visit to Gulf monarchies, Hammond also said world powers will not "turn a blind eye" to attempts by Iran to destabilise the region.

"In Yemen, progress is being made and we recognise the efforts of the Gulf states, and I have to give particular thanks to Kuwait for hosting the peace negotiations," Hammond told a news conference in Jeddah.

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