While the Yemeni army's recent victories over al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Sharia forced the terrorist organisation to flee Abyan province, government officials accused the group of deliberately planting landmines before it left.
This has led to dozens of casualties among innocent civilians and demining team members.
Seventy-three people have been killed by hidden landmines as of Tuesday (June 26th), according to Yemen's Defence Department. The casualties include 23 military personnel stationed in Abyan and 50 civilians.
"The military engineering team[s] removed 3,119 mines planted by Ansar al-Sharia and al-Qaeda terrorists before they fled Abyan province," Col. Saeed Ali Meshaal, the commander of the military's landmine clearance unit in Abyan, said in a statement.
Military specialists removed and destroyed the mines during a week of operations in Zinjibar, Bajdar, Hosn Shaddad, Maraked and Hassan Stadium, as well as at government buildings and public facilities, including the Criminal Investigation Department, the Agricultural Co-operative Credit Bank, and the security directorate.
Meshaal said the mines were made locally using motorcycle batteries, Freon and gas pipes, artillery shells and other materials.
"The sound of exploding mines can be heard three or four times a day inside Zinjibar, leaving a tally of dead and wounded [victims in their wake]," Meshaal said.
Abyan deputy governor Ahmed al-Rahwi, said officials dispatched six field survey teams, a mine clearance platoon, and two explosive ordnance disposal units, in addition to four teams from the Military Engineering Division in the southern military zone to remove land mines around the southern province.
"Al-Qaeda revealed its ugly and violent face by planting mines in water coolers, behind air conditioning units, attached to door locks, in qat chewing lounges and in other unexpected places, which caused dozens of deaths and injuries," al-Rahwi told Al-Shorfa.
He added that clearance units in Jaar also discovered workshops used to manufacture mines.
He said that military officials prohibited displaced residents from returning to Zinjibar until the disposal teams have completely cleared the area of mines, especially within homes that al-Qaeda emirs used as residences.
Al-Rahwi said it is important to educate citizens and the displaced about the danger of mines.
"Four field teams are instructing citizens and residents in Jaar and Khanfar who did not leave their homes, telling them not to touch suspicious objects," he said. "Other teams are educating displaced [residents] about the danger of mines."
The Director of the Yemeni National Demining Centre, Qaed al-Jahafi, met with Abyan governor Jamal al-Aqil on Sunday (June 24th) and presented him with a detailed status report on the disposal team's progress.
The report said that demining teams began work in Abyan on June 13th, one day after al-Qaeda forces withdrew from its strongholds in the province. Six teams were deployed in Jabal Lahboush, Zinjibar, Kod, and Shaqra, while four teams warned residents not to approach suspicious objects and to exercise caution when entering their homes.
Human rights activists appealed to al-Qaeda to provide maps identifying the mines' locations in order to prevent more casualties.
"It is a humanitarian appeal," said activist Hammoud Hazza. "Al-Qaeda, however, does not deal in humanitarianism, so we are appealing to them in the name of religion to prevent more casualties among innocent civilians."
Abdul Salam Saeed, the leader of the mine clearing teams in the Khanfar directorate, said the operation is continuing and is 60% complete.
"Ansar al-Sharia craftily planted the mines to cause the highest number of casualties, which debunks their claim that they fled Jaar to spare the town from additional casualties," he said.
Analyst Mohammed al-Ghabri agreed with him, saying, "The large number of mines al-Qaeda planted exposes the methodology it uses when dealing with its opponents."
"It fled Jaar under the pretext that it wanted to avoid casualties among the population, but responded [instead] by planting a large number of mines, regardless of whether their potential victims are military or civilian," he said.