SANAA // Yemen's army launched an offensive against tribesmen suspected of repeatedly sabotaging an oil pipeline in east Yemen, sparking clashes which left 11 people dead, tribal sources said.
The dead included seven tribesmen and four soldiers, said the sources, who added that the army offensive in the Habab valley, 140 kilometres east of the capital Sanaa, was launched in the early hours of the morning and was backed by air raids.
Tribesmen fought back with rocket-propelled grenades, one source said.
The army did not immediately confirm the deaths of four soldiers.
According to official figures, lost production due to attacks on the oil pipeline in the east cost the government more than US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) in 2012, while oil exports fell by 4.5 per cent.
A tribal source said that the offensive was aimed against prominent figure Salah bin Hussein Al Dammaj, who has allegedly blown up the pipeline several times to pressure the authorities to pay him 100 million riyals ($480,000) in compensation for land he claims was taken from him in Sanaa.
Attacks on oil and gas pipelines by Al-Qaeda militants or by tribesmen seeking to extract concessions from the central government are common in Yemen.
In July, Petroleum and Minerals Minister Hisham Abdullah said the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country had lost more than $4 billion (3.1 billion euros) in revenues since February 2011 due to the attacks.
Yemen produces about 300,000 barrels of oil a day, most of which is destined for export.