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Ex-junta chief held in Guinea-Bissau, capital calm

Ex-junta chief held in Guinea-Bissau, capital calm

BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau (Reuters) -- Loyalist forces captured Guinea-Bissau's renegade former military junta leader Friday after he challenged the authority of civilian President Kumba Yalla, triggering fighting in and around the capital.

The capture of Ansumane Mane came one day after the bulk of the impoverished former Portuguese colony's army sided with Yalla against Mane, who had proclaimed himself armed forces chief of staff after a dispute about promotions.

"I urge people to return home now that the war is over," Yalla said in a broadcast address.

He deplored the fact that soldiers had taken up arms against the West African nation's democratically elected institutions.

State radio said loyalist forces had detained Mane at a Roman Catholic mission at Quinhamel, some 20 miles from the city. Former public prosecutor Amin Saad and several renegade officers were detained along with him, it added.

Defense Ministry officials confirmed the report.

Inacio Tavares, head of the country's human right's league, told state radio that Mane should not be harmed and should be handed over to the legal authorities.

"They are not going to kill Ansumane Mane," Air Force Cmdr. Manuel Mina told Portuguese RDP radio. He did not say where the former military chief was being held.

Thursday's fighting caused a civilian exodus from Bissau, reviving memories of a bloody 1998 army revolt there.

Reports of deaths

Mane led that revolt and went on to oust President Joao Bernardo Vieira during an agreed transition. Vieira had seized power in a 1980 coup and won a 1994 presidential election.

Some sources said a number of soldiers had been killed and some civilians wounded during intense shooting in and around Bissau Thursday. They gave no figures and no independent confirmation was available.

The streets of central Bissau were quiet Friday with banks and most shops closed. Some civilians returned home.

Witnesses said that loyalist soldiers evicted some families of Mane loyalists from their homes in central Bissau.

Mane unilaterally proclaimed himself army chief Monday.

Defense Minister Fernando Correia Landim said Thursday that military promotions announced by the government and rejected by Mane would stand.

He said Verissimo Seabra Correia, the government-appointed chief of staff whom Mane briefly put under house arrest, would be promoted to the rank of major-general with two stars.

Mane's status has been unclear since Yalla won power in a January presidential election. The U.N. Security Council warned Mane that he would be held responsible if the country descended into chaos again.

Neighboring Senegal confirmed its support for Yalla and appealed for international economic aid for the population of just over 1 million, most of whom are subsistence farmers.

"President (Abdoulaye Wade) appeals to the international community for economic and financial aid to the people of Guinea-Bissau, a country where extreme poverty fosters political and social instability," a Senegalese statement said Friday.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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