* Insurgents say seven soldiers killed
* Air strike kills al Qaeda commander
ADEN, April 30 (Reuters) - Yemen said it killed 12 militants linked to al Qaeda in the country's restive south on Monday, while insurgents reported killing seven soldiers in the same battle.
Soldiers backed by tribal fighters killed eight militants outside the town of Lawdar, where clashes have taken place for several weeks, a local government official said. An air force plane bombed a vehicle nearby, killing four militants inside.
The official said one soldier and a tribal fighter died in the battle. However, Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), an al Qaeda-affiliated group which has seized several areas in the south, said in a statement that its fighters killed seven soldiers and wounded 27 tribesmen.
The reports could not be verified because access to the area is restricted.
A year of political upheaval that eventually unseated former President Ali Abdullah Saleh has emboldened militants in the impoverished Arab state, especially in the south, where they have seized swathes of territory and carried out scores of attacks on security forces.
The increasing frequency and audacity of attacks linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have prompted the United States to use drones to target militants in southern Yemen.
AQAP on Monday confirmed the death of a prominent commander in an air strike on his convoy in the oil-producing province of Maarib last week.
Mohammed al-Umda, who received military training under al Qaeda's deceased founder Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, was convicted of involvement in a 2002 attack on the French oil tanker Limburg. He was jailed in 2005 but escaped from prison in 2006.
Yemen says it has killed more than 200 militants since the start of the month, when Ansar al-Sharia fighters attacked an army camp in the Lawdar area.
(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Pravin Char)