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Violence surges in Casamance as peace process stays blocked

by Staff Writers
Ziguinchor, Senegal (AFP) Dec 30, 2010
Violence flared again in Senegal's troubled south as seven soldiers were killed this week, prompting criticism over a stalled peace process in the three decade-long separatist rebellion.

The losses, in an ambush on Senegalese troops by suspected separatist rebels, were the heaviest since six soldiers were killed in October 2009 in the sporadic clashes that characterise one of Africa's longest running conflicts.

"The month of December always brings tensions in the Casamance," said journalist Ibrahima Gassama, a specialist on the Casamance conflict which broke out in 1982.

"It is the anniversary of the outbreak of the rebellion, which uses this to mark its presence," he told AFP.

The rebel Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) also carried out hijackings to boost their resources during the holiday season.

Senegalese authorities are however concerned about evidence the rebels seem to have come into posession of heavy weaponry, which allowed them to put up a strong resistance against the army.

"It is certain that they (rebels) have new equipment which they did not before, such as rocket launchers, mortars and machine guns," a Senegalese military official told AFP.

Former army chief General Mamadou Mansour Seck has called in the media for stricter surveillance of the borders.

A cache of Iranian arms recently discovered in Nigeria on their way to Gambia, raised fears in Senegal that they had bene destined for the Casamance rebels.

But while fears persist over the re-arming of the rebels, some observers have also raised concerns about the future of a peace process which stalled shortly after the signing of a peace accord in 2004.

Gassama said the process had remained in limbo since the death of Father Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, founding leader of the MFDC in 2007, because of divisions within the movement.

But for Moussa Cisse, a mediator in the crisis, insisted that the peace process was not blocked.

The MFDC was "three quarters united but they are dissenting and difficult to control," said Cisse.

The last time talks were held was in the town of Foundiagne in February 2005, shortly after the peace accord between the MFDC and Senegalese government was signed in December 2004.

MFDC official Daniel Diatta said: "The Senegalese government prefers to deal directly with the fighters instead of the civilian wing. It is a problem."

He said meetings were planned for January to unite the rebel movement in its talks with government.

Dakar-based human rights group Raddho on Wednesday called on government to organise a national peace conference on the Casamance.

In a statement the body said it "deplores the lack of vision in the construction and consolidation of peace in Casamance."

The crisis "has become the longest low intensity conflict on the African continent, with a situation of neither war or peace, and its share of desolation, of daily violence, robberies, of assault, extortion and continued insecurity," it added.

A rich agricultural region with lush forests and white stretches of beach, the ongoing rebellion has stunted development in the Casamance area -- a strip of land cut off from the rest of Senegal by Gambia.

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