Foreigners Flee Guinea-Bissau
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) _ Foreigners fleeing Guinea-Bissau in overcrowded navy and merchant ships arrived Saturday in neighboring Senegal with frightening tales of bombardments and street fighting between government and rebel troops.
Fifty-eight expatriates _ Brazilians, Argentines and Chinese and one U.S. citizen _ were aboard a small Chinese vessel, the fourth boat to drop anchor in Senegal’s capital Dakar since the exodus began from the former Portuguese colony in West Africa.
Earlier boats were filled with Portuguese, Canadians, French, Germans, Senegalese and U.S. nationals.
Evacuees arriving after the grueling 24-hour journey without food or water on the decks of cargo ships to Dakar said those left behind in Bissau were without water or electricity or communications. The city’s only water tower was destroyed in the fighting.
The ships, most without food and water supplies, were met by embassy officials and family members, some weeping with relief and others sobbing in frustration at failing to see their loved ones on board.
Fighting has raged in Guinea-Bissau’s capital of Bissau since last Sunday, when government troops supported by soldiers from neighboring Senegal and Republic of Guinea pinned an unknown number of renegade soldiers in a military garrison.
Mark Stevens, U.S. charge d’affaires in Dakar, said he knew of only five Americans remaining in Guinea-Bissau _ U.S. ambassador Peggy Blackford and four other State Department employees who were holed up inside the embassy in the capital of Bissau.
If the U.S. officials were forced to leave, they would likely be evacuated by a Portuguese ship.
``That seems to be the only way to get out,″ Stevens said.
Meanwhile, the White House released a letter Saturday in Portland, Ore., in which President Clinton informed congressional leaders that he had assigned U.S. military planes to Dakar last Wednesday ``to be prepared to evacuate American private citizens and government employees as well as third country nationals in Bissau.″
He assured Congress that the standby deployment was taken ``solely for the purpose of protecting American citizens and property″ and that the ``United States forces will redeploy as soon as it is determined that the evacuation is complete.″
U.S. presidents are required to notify Congress when they deploy U.S. forces in potentially dangerous circumstances.