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Southern Yemenis bombard Sanaa

SOUTHERN Yemeni forces launched air and missile attacks on the capital, Sanaa, and northern troops advanced on the southern port of Aden in the worst fighting since the country united four years ago.

Yemen's official Saba news agency said southern forces, numerically inferior to the army of the north, but with superior air power, fired five Russian-made Scud missiles at Sanaa. The missiles, launched from bases near Aden, 180 miles away, caused no casualties or serious damage, it said.

A north Yemen official said the capital came under repeated southern air attacks. He said raiding southern warplanes had bombed at random on Sanaa, 'causing damage to some civilian areas'.

About 16 foreigners, including 13 Britons, arrived in Djibouti on a fishing boat after fleeing the fighting in Aden yesterday, as French naval vessels took off 560 more. The fishing boat Jules Verne started loading evacuees yesterday morning and the frigate Commandant Bory, and two other vessels, joined the rescue operation.

A statement issued from north Yemen said loyal troops were advancing towards Aden and would not stop until they had control of the capital of former South Yemen.

It was only eight years ago that the Royal Yacht Britannia was diverted to Aden to take off foreigners caught up in the bloodbath between rival factions in what was then the Marxist People's Democratic Republic of Yemen.

Four years later, the PDRY joined with the Yemen Arab Republic to form a single country, Yemen. But the failure properly to integrate the two has helped spark the current eruption of fighting between armed forces of north and south.

Southern forces loyal to Vice- President Ali Salem al-Baidh stationed in the north were driven back by northern forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The northern and southern military commands issued rival claims of successes. The south said it had shot down five aircraft bombing Aden. The defence ministry in Sanaa in the north said a brigade commander had been captured as he tried to flee Dhamar, scene of heavy fighting 62 miles (100km) south of Sanaa.

Foreigners and embassy personnel in Sanaa appeared as much worried by power cuts as power struggles. Phone lines to Sanaa and Aden were down and the airport remained closed.

Among those stranded in the Yemeni capital was the US State Department's top official dealing with the Middle East, Robert Pelletreau. The Arab League is due to meet today in emergency session to discuss how to stop the fighting.