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GUINEA-BISSAU: GUINEA BISSAU: Loyalist troops capitulate

Abidjan, 7 May 1999 (IRIN) - Forces loyal to Guinea Bissau's president, Joao Bernardo Vieira, have surrendered to the self-styled Military Junta, ending a 10-month battle for power that began in early June 1998, a Western diplomat in Senegal told IRIN on Friday.

Loyalist Chief of General Staff Brigadier Umberto Gomes said in a
statement handed to the Portuguese military representative in Bissau for delivery to the Junta commanders that the surrender was motivated by concern for the country and human life, news reports added.

Fighting started late Thursday, after six months of calm, when loyalists resisted efforts by the West African intervention force, ECOMOG, to disarm some of the presidential guards. Under a peace agreement signed in Nigeria in November 1998, each of the rival leaders was to have reduced his bodyguards to 30 men by Wednesday.

Junta spokesman Commander Zamora Induta told Portuguese radio: "We were taken by surprise this morning at about 05:00 [GMT] by an offensive launched by President Nino Vieira's forces." However, a Western diplomat told IRIN the circumstances around the start of the fighting were unclear and still needed investigation.

An exact tally of the casualties has not yet been given. The Missionary News Agency, MISNA, reported that three bombs fell, killing 24 people at the entrance of the Giuseppini del Murtialdo Professional Education Centre. AP reported at least 20 wounded were admitted to Bissau's main hospital.

As the fighting started with light arms, bazookas and mortars, many people fled the capital for the port, for possible evacuation. Lusa, reporting from the city, spoke of tens of thousands of fleeing civilians.

An interim government had been formed to lead the country to general elections on 28 November. It is now unclear what effect the latest developments will have on this process and on the money donors promised for reconstruction.

On Wednesday, 32 donor nations and international agencies attending a roundtable in Geneva pledged some US $200 million over three years for the reconstruction of Guinea Bissau.

Guinea Bissau's troubles started when Viera dismissed his armed forces chief of staff, General Ansumane Mane, on 6 June 1998 allegedly for smuggling arms to separatists in Casamance, southern Senegal.

However, a parliamentary report on the arms trafficking, made public on 13 April, listed 40 people as directly responsible, including former Defence Minister Samba Lamine Mane, ex-police chief Joao Monteiro and the former army second-in-command, Afonso Te. It accused Vieira of negligence but not of direct involvement.

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