Yemeni officials say at least 36 soldiers and 25 Al Qaeda fighters have been killed in fighting in the southern province of Abyan.

A military official said Sunday's fighting was taking place at a military base west of Abyan's provincial capital of Zinjibar, held by militants since May. The fighters overran the base and captured heavy weapons that were turned on the soldiers, he says.

A health official confirmed the toll. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The violence in Abyan highlights the challenges facing Yemen after a year of political turmoil that has allowed Al Qaeda to seize several towns in the nearly lawless south and withstand repeated army offensives to retake them.