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Senegal: Violence in Casamance: 13 young people killed in a forest

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – Carl DE SOUZA – | Senegalese soldiers, January 22, 2017 in Barra

After years of calm, Casamance, a region of southern Senegal where a rebellion has been active for 35 years, experienced an unexpected upsurge of violence on Saturday when 13 youths who cut wood were killed without warning by an armed gang.

“The attack also left seven wounded and a young man managed to escape,” said AFP Colonel Abdou Ndiaye, spokesman for the Senegalese army.

It occurred in the afternoon in a forest near the border with Guinea-Bissau, about twenty kilometers from the capital, Ziguinchor, agricultural and tourist region separated from the rest of Senegal by Gambia.

“They went out to collect wood when they fell on an armed band of fifteen individuals, who fired directly,” said Colonel Abdou Ndiaye. The Senegalese army deployed a company of some 150 paratroopers equipped with vehicles to evacuate the victims and “hunt down” the perpetrators of the attack.

The dead bodies were transported to the morgue of the Ziguinchor Regional Hospital, where the injured were also taken and where many families gathered, according to the Senegalese Press Agency APS (official).

“They would have exceeded the buffer zone separating the positions of the Senegalese army from those of the MFDC (Mouvement des forces democratiques de Casamance), the armed independence rebellion,” the APS said, without citing any sources.

– ‘No warning signs’ –

“It is too early to say if the attackers are part of the MFDC, the investigation will say,” said Colonel Ndiaye, while the rebellion is divided into several factions.

The attack comes the day after the release of two MFDC fighters, released by the army following a mediation launched by the community of Sant’Egidio of Rome between the State of Senegal and the MFDC fighters.

The rebellion for the independence of Casamance, which has lasted since December 1982, has left thousands of civilian and military victims, ravaged the economy of the region and pushed many residents to flee.

A lull has loomed on the ground for several years as peace talks have proliferated since President Macky Sall came to power in 2012.

“There were no tensions lately, no warning signs,” said Saturday the spokesman of the army.

– ‘Consolidate peace’ –

In his year-end greetings on Sunday, the Senegalese head of state had appealed to the rebels for the continuation of talks on “a final peace”.

“Let us build peace, because our progress is already substantial, through the confident dialogue that we have pursued all these years with the constant support of the facilitators, whom I salute and appreciate,” he added.

“Let us consolidate peace so that the accompanying measures already initiated by the government will be strengthened and produce their full effects.We take the decisive step towards the final peace, a peace without conqueror or vanquished,” continued the Senegalese leader.

The Senegalese government has implemented a program to rebuild Casamance with several projects in agriculture, infrastructure, tourism and education.

Talks for peace in Casamance between the Senegalese government and the MFDC are continuing. Discussions between the two parties were held in October in Rome under the aegis of Sant’Egidio, mediator in the conflict.

Always discreet, the Catholic community played a key role in negotiating a peace agreement in Mozambique. She is also involved in mediations in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Libya.

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