Guinea's military government today launched a search for former prime minister Diarra Traore, the leader of an unsuccessful plot to seize power in this West African country.

"The former prime minister is certainly in hiding in the capital, and the city remains sealed to prevent his escape," a senior government official said.

The attempt to overthrow the government of President Lansana Conte, who was attending a regional summit conference in Lome, Togo, was foiled by loyalist troops yesterday.

Officials said 15 persons were killed and 100 wounded in a three-hour battle for the national radio station and in scattered fighting elsewhere in the capital between police units loyal to Traore and government troops. The rebel forces held the official government radio station for five hours before loyalist troops recaptured it. Several dozen persons, including top government officials, have been arrested, military officials said.

Army officers had said earlier that Traore had been arrested yesterday afternoon, and soldiers guarding one of Traore's destroyed residences said the former prime minister had been arrested there. But government officials insisted today that Traore was still at large.

Conte told foreign journalists that before leaving the capital to attend the summit of the Economic Community of West African States in Lome, he had sensed that something was wrong but did not expect a coup attempt. He added that he never imagined that the Army and people would back him 100 percent but that "I was sure that a coup in Guinea now would fail."

Military sources said that the former prime minister, who was demoted to education minister last year, had stationed tanks at strategic points in the capital several days before his coup attempt to ensure public order when school test scores were released this week.

The minister of state for reform of the civil service, Capt. Mamadou Balde, denied reports that the coup attempt had its root in the majority Malinke tribe, saying that Malinke soldiers are the most ardent supporters of the Conte government. Traore is a Malinke, and Conte belongs to the smaller Soussou tribe.

Conte flew home hours after the coup attempt to an emotional welcome of thousands of Guineans. Following a rally in support of the president, attended by thousands of drum-beating citizens, homes and stores owned by Malinkes were looted and destroyed.

Conte said, "We had nearly succeeded in convincing all Guineans that they are equal citizens. Traore, on the other hand, did all he could to persuade the Malinke that they were being victimized for the country's problems."

According to one diplomat in Conakry, Traore misjudged how the public would respond to a coup attempt because of "his failure to realize the extent to which he is associated with the despised government of the deceased Guinean dictator Ahmed Sekou Toure." Sekou Toure led Guinea from its independence until he died last year.