Bissau rebels fight for capital

GUINEA-BISSAU'S government yesterday ruled out peace talks with rebel forces unless they declare an immediate ceasefire, as the warring factions waged gunbattles in the nearly deserted capital.

The rebels must also explain their motives for staging a takeover bid, said Male Sane, Guinea-Bissau's Minister for the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.

The rebels launched their coup attempt from a military garrison in Bissau two weeks ago under the command of the country's former army chief of staff, Ansumane Mane.

Candjura Indjai, leader of Guinea-Bissau's main opposition party, Union for Change, meanwhile offered to mediate talks along with Portugal's ambassador, Henriques da Silva and the Catholic bishop of Bissau.

The mutiny has sparked two weeks of fierce fighting in the former Portuguese colony on Africa's western tip and has drawn in troops from neighbouring Senegal and Republic of Guinea to support the government.

The rebels want the removal of President Joao Bernardo Vieira, whom they accused of gross corruption. General Mane, a hero of Guinea-Bissau's war of independence against Portugal, was fired from the army early this year for allegedly running guns to Senegalese separatists.

Senegalese military officials said yesterday that fighting was continuing around Bissau's international airport. There were reports that the rebels controlled all roads into the city.

The number of casualties from the fighting remains unclear, though more than a hundred rotting corpses lay in the streets of the capital.