Yemen air attacks.jpg
Photograph: EPA/YAHYA ARHAB

At least 19 government soldiers were Saturday shot dead in an ambush in strife-torn Yemen amid conflicting reports about the identity of the attackers.

Local residents said that insurgents with suspected links to al-Qaeda ambushed the soldiers in the town of Ahwar of the southern Abyan province.

The soldiers were on their way to the eastern province of Mohra to get their salaries when the gunmen opened fire at them in the al-Qaeda-controlled Ahwar, they added.

At least 20 soldiers were injured.

However, al-Qaeda denied in a purported statement any link to the attack.

The online statement claimed that a local tribal chief and his followers were involved.

The statement could not be independently verified.

There was no official comment in Yemen, which has been in turmoil in recent years.

Several parts of Abyan, located around 427 kilometres south-east of the capital Sana’a, have been under the control of al-Qaeda militants for months now.

Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of Yemen's civil war between the Iran-allied rebels and forces of Saudi-backed President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi to expand its presence in the impoverished country.

A ceasefire between Hadi’s forces and rebels is due to start at midnight on Sunday across Yemen, ahead of UN-brokered peace talks scheduled for April 18 in Kuwait.

Yemen is home to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, seen as one of the terrorist network’s most active branches in the world.

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