More than 100 Shiite rebels killed

SANAA: Yemeni troops have killed more than 100 Shiite rebels, including two of their commanders, in an operation to recapture a small town in the northern mountains, the government said on Sunday.

"The bodies of more than 100 rebels have been recovered from the roadside outside the town of Harf Sufyan," a government statement said.

"It seems that the bodies were those of rebels who were trying to flee the town during a mopping-up operation over the past two days," the statement said, adding that two of the dead were identified as commanders Mohsen Saleh Hadi Gawd and Salah Jorman.

There was no independent confirmation of the number of those killed in the operation in Harf Sufyan, some 70 kilometres (45 miles) north of the capital Sanaa.

The security forces succeeded in "totally purging the town of rebel elements in the past two days, forcing the rebels to surrender or flee", the government statement said.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh pledged on Wednesday to crush the Shiite rebellion in the north as the army pressed on with an offensive launched two weeks ago.

The campaign, dubbed Operation Scorched Earth, aims to end once and for all a rebellion by Zaidi Shiite rebels, also known as Huthis, in the rugged mountainous region.

Fighting began in Saada province on the border with Saudi Arabia and has since spread to Amran province to the south where Hafr Sufyan is located.

An offshoot of Shiite Islam, the Zaidis are a minority in mainly Sunni Yemen but form the majority community in the north. Saleh is himself a Zaidi.

The rebels reject the current government and want to restore the Zaidi imamate overthrown in a 1962 coup. Thousands of people have been killed since the conflict first erupted in 2004.