Yemeni army units on Thursday advanced towards Zinjibar, the southern Abyan provincial capital which fell to insurgents linked to Al-Qaeda in late May, a military official told AFP.
"Units of the 201st and 119th brigades advanced towards Zinjibar on two fronts and have managed to link up with the 25th mechanised brigade," which has been encircled since militants captured the city, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The military recaptured Al-Wahda stadium seven kilometres (four miles) east of Zinjibar, then advanced to the outskirts of the Hosn Shaddad neighbourhood adjacent to the 25th mechanised brigade, he said.
"They linked up with the besieged soldiers of the brigade," he added.
Other military units backed by tanks, were about five kilometres from Zinjibar after capturing the village of Al-Kud from insurgents over the past two days, he said, adding that there were reports of heavy fighting.
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Gunmen claiming to be from the group Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law), a Qaeda-linked organisation, captured Zinjibar on May 29. They besieged the base of the 25th mechanised brigade, and managed to take temporary control of other Abyan villages.
In their new progress towards Zinjibar, the armed forces have come up against stiff resistance from insurgents, according to a local official, who said the extremists had taken heavy losses in fighting on Wednesday.
"Al Qaeda lost 30 men yesterday in the fighting south of Zinjibar," Mohsen Saeed Salem, a local official, told AFP.
Among the insurgents killed was "Yasher Alban, an Al-Qaeda leader from Lahij," the neighbouring province to Abyan, he added.
A source close to the militants told AFP that between 15 and 20 insurgents had been killed.
The bodies of four soldiers killed in fighting the previous day near Zinjibar were transported to the military hospital in the main southern city of Aden, a medic told AFP.