An explosion caused by an improvised device killed six Yemeni separatist fighters on Monday during an anti-jihadist sweep in the south of the war-ravaged country, security sources said.

“Four Yemeni soldiers were killed and six others wounded in an IED explosion targeting a military vehicle” during a campaign targeting Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Abyan province, a security official told AFP.

Two of the wounded later died of their injuries, the same official later said.

A second security source confirmed the original toll and the revised toll.

On September 6, 21 separatist fighters and six AQAP members were killed when an attack by the jihadists punctured months of relative peace.

Yemen has been gripped by conflict since Iran-backed Houthi rebels took control of the capital Sanaa in 2014, triggering a Saudi-led military intervention in support of the beleaguered government the following year.

AQAP and militants loyal to the Islamic State group have thrived in the chaos.

A UN-brokered ceasefire has drastically reduced fighting between the government and Houthis since April, but outbreaks of violence continue.

The anti-Houthi camp includes motley groups such as the separatists targeted by Monday’s IED blast.

They belong to a force known as the Security Belt, which is trained and equipped by the United Arab Emirates and which has played a key role in the fight against jihadists, forcing them to retreat from towns into rural areas.

The separatists aspire to create an independent South Yemen such as the state that existed until 1990.

The Security Belt force is tasked with protecting southern Yemeni regions which, with their access to the sea and the Horn of Africa, are of particular interest to the UAE.

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According to the United Nations, the conflict in Yemen has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions, and two-thirds of the population need humanitarian aid.