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Bissau hit by rebel attack

DIPLOMATS WERE trying to broker a ceasefire yesterday between the Guinea-Bissau army and the democratically elected government of the West African country, after fighting returned to the capital, Bissau.

The interim Prime Minister, Francisco Fadul, said yesterday that fighting had increased overnight between Senegalese troops supporting President Joao Bernardo Vieira and the army, which opposes his rule.

"There is a lot of automatic weapon fire and a lot of heavy shelling," Mr Fadul said. Headded that the foreign and defence ministers of Togo were expected in Bissau yesterday to broker talks. The ambassadors of Portugal, France and Sweden are also involved in the diplomatic efforts, he said.

A French Navy ship, Siroco, is off the coast of Bissau, where it is attempting to land 300 West African peace-keeping reinforcements from Benin and Niger.

On Tuesday it was reported to have shelled rebel positions but the French ambassador to Bissau, Francois Chapellet, denied the claim. Earlier this week there were reports that at least 30 people had died in Bissau over the weekend, with more than 200 casualties admitted to hospital. Many people have reportedly sought shelter in foreign embassies.

The peacekeepers are due to be deployed as part of a plan brokered by the 16-nation Economic Community of West African States and the former colonial power, Portugal.

The policy, agreed last November, envisaged presidential elections next month but did not include plans for disarming the rebel army.

The rebellion, which began last June and is supported by guerrillas from neighbouring Senegal, has displaced half the country's one million people.