200 believed to have drowned as fighting renewed

 

Around 200 people fleeing week-long fighting in Guinea Bissau were reported to have drowned yesterday as renewed shelling between government forces and army rebels pounded the capital.

French evacuees in Dakar said the incident happened on Friday when a boat carrying the refugees, most of them Guinea Bissau citizens, capsized on its way to the Bijagos islands, 50 km off the west African country's coast.

Artillery explosions rocked Bissau early yesterday after an overnight lull, with witnesses saying the rebels were targeting positions manned by the loyalist army backed up by Senegalese and Guinean troop reinforcements.

The Senegalese and Guinea Bissau military said on Saturday that they had retaken an armoured regiment's barracks north of the city where the rebels were sheltering, killing 60 of the renegade soldiers.

But a spokesman for the rebels, who have declared a junta in the bid to oust President Joao Bernardo Vieira, denied they had been overrun.

The latest shelling was said to be coming from the barracks, a nearby military base with underground tunnels providing a heavily defended position and another camp to the east of Bissau.

Foreigners who fled on Thursday aboard four boats to Senegal said there was no food left in the capital. Another 3,500 foreigners were evacuated on Friday.

In Paris, a French official said another 200 foreigners were being evacuated yesterday.

Meanwhile, Guinea Bissau's army chief of staff, Gen Sandji Fati, and the rapid intervention force commander, Rachid Sayegh, were among those killed in loyalist-rebel clashes in the past week, military sources told LUSA news agency in Lisbon yesterday.

The Lisbon newspaper Publico reported that the navy chief of staff, Feliciano Gomes, and a presidential military aide, Aniceto Costa, had also died in the fighting.