Sana’a/Aden: Yemeni coastguards blocked ports on Sunday to protest against the government’s failure to pay financial benefits they said it had promised, halting most shipping.

Port officials said the guards prevented workers from entering four main ports, including Aden in the south, Hodeidah in the west and the Red Sea ports of Mokha and Saleef.

“Movement has completely stopped in almost all ports,” Sharaf Mohammad, a ship captain at Hodeidah.

Yemen has slipped into a state of chaos during a year of unrest. Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been ousted after 33 years of rule and replaced by his deputy, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, under a deal brokered by Yemen’s neighbours.

The army is pushing ahead with campaign to retake towns seized by militants linked to Al Qaida during the upheaval.

In Zinjibar, capital of the southern Abyan province, where the army has been fighting the militants for more than a month, at least five militants were killed in battles on Sunday with government forces, a local official and residents said.

Separately, at least one soldier and one member of the southern secessionist movement were killed during rare clashes on Sunday in the southern province of Dalea, the Defence Ministry and southern activists said.

The ministry said in a text message that members of the southern secessionist movement had attacked the soldiers, while the secessionists said the soldiers fired at them without a warning.

The incident comes ahead of a meeting later this month in Cairo between Yemeni political leaders and prominent secessionists to prepare for a national dialogue scheduled for August.

The dialogue is an element of the Saudi Arabia and US-backed transition deal that removed Saleh from office this year in a bid to avert civil war.

South Yemen was formerly a separate state whose 1990 union with the north collapsed into civil war four years later.