WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Michal Zymierski, a Polish independence fighter who became a Soviet-backed member of the first postwar Communist government, died Sunday. He was 99 and died in Warsaw, the state PAP news agency said.

Zymierski was an officer under Jozef Pilsudski seeking the independence of Poland, which was won in 1918.

According to an official biography, Zymierski then split with Pilsudski and spent 1926 to 1931 as a political prisoner. His next seven years were spent in France.

During World War II, he became allied with the Soviet-backed Communist resistance forces and was an organizer of the underground Polish People's Army.

He was a member of the first postwar government formed under Soviet auspices on July 22, 1944, in Lublin.

Known as the Lublin Committee, it was to form the core of the future governments as the Communists, backed by Soviet leader Josef Stalin, consolidated power in Poland. Key appointments were made with Stalin's approval, with Zymierski taking charge of defense.

Zymierski was given the rank of marshal of Poland, meaning the head of the armed forces in case of war, in 1945. He was commander of the army and minister of defense until 1949.

Gradually falling from favor during the period of Stalinist purges in Poland, Zymierski was relieved of the military command in 1949 and arrested and imprisoned from 1952 until 1955.

After 1956 Zymierski was rehabilitated and given a senior position in the National Bank of Poland. He retired in 1968.

He was a member of the communist Polish United Workers Party from its founding in 1948 and was on the Central Committee in the early 1980s.

Born in the southern city of Krakow, Zymierski studied law at Jagiellonian University there.