A New Zealand journalist held in custody in Yemen is safe despite a spiraling conflict between militants and authorities in the crisis-hit country.

Glen Johnson was working on a story about people smuggling when he was arrested for being in southern Yemen illegally late last month.

Officials from the Yemen Embassy in Washington, US, announced on Friday that he would be deported.

Meanwhile, protests demanding an end to Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh's three-decade rule continue to paralyse the country.

Islamist militants suspected of ties to al Qaeda have seized two cities in the southern province of Abyan, including its capital, Zinjibar, forcing tens of thousands of Yemenis to flee.

Saleh clings to power despite an assassination attempt that forced him to seek treatment in Saudi Arabia, leaving the country in limbo.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman today said the agency was in direct and daily contact with Yemen authorities regarding Mr Johnson through its embassy in Saudi Arabia.

He was safe and MFAT was aware of his current whereabouts, she said.

"The Ministry is in contact with his family and providing information to them directly. The current security situation in Yemen presents a challenging operating environment."

Mr Johnson's King Country-based parents, Mike and Lin Johnson, earlier said they did not know when he would be released but were glad he was safe.

"It's a huge weight off our shoulders," Mike Johnson said. "We're so relieved something is happening but we're also cautious, he's not on the plane yet."

Johnson, trained at Canterbury University, had been commissioned to write for UK magazines, but had also done some work for the Herald on Sunday.

He corresponded with nzherald.co.nz during the mass riots that led to the resignation of former Egypt President Hosni Mubarak.