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Guinea-Bissau Guard Surrenders

May 7, 1999

LISBON, Portugal (AP) _ After 24 hours of fighting, Guinea-Bissau’s 600-strong presidential guard surrendered to a breakaway military faction Friday further weakening President Joao Bernardo Vieira’s position in the West African country.

Both sides began exchanging automatic weapon fire late Thursday in downtown Bissau, according to Cherno Balde, a spokesman for Prime Minister Francisco Fadul, who last year began siding with the rebels.

The presidential guard surrendered after the rebels surrounded Vieira’s palace, the Portuguese news agency Lusa quoted a military source in Bissau as saying. In a statement, the presidential guard leader his troops had given in to avoid further bloodshed.

There were no details on whether anyone was killed in the shooting. News reports said there were at least 20 wounded in the capital’s main hospital.

A military faction revolted in June 1998, claiming Vieira was corrupt. Most of the country’s 6,000-strong army joined the rebels, who won the support of much of the country’s 1.1 million population.

The latest battles came despite the presence of a regional peacekeeping force deployed as part of a November peace accord that was to settle the conflict.

The prime minister’s spokesman said the fighting erupted after the passing of a Wednesday deadline the rebels had given Vieira to reduce his presidential guard to 30 soldiers.

Thursday’s fighting sent hundreds fleeing the capital toward the port, looking for refuge in the Bissagos islands, about 30 miles off the coast, the Lusa news agency said. About 3,000 people found shelter in two church missions in the capital of the former Portuguese colony, it said.

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