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Mouvement des Forces Dmocratiques du le Casamance (MFDC)
Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance

The armed resistance of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) against the government of Senegal is the longest running active separatist movement in Africa. Since 1982, MFDC rebels have been fighting for independence for the southwestern region of Senegal between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, known as the Casamance, primarily targeting military installations, convoys, and personnel in an attempt to destabilize the region. Civilians living and traveling in the Casamance have been targets of opportunity for the rebels and bandits that support the group. Foreign visitors should be cognizant of the border between Senegal and The Gambia and make a concerted effort not to accidently stray into the Casamance.

Rebels in Senegal's southern Casamance [Cassamance] province have been waging a bloody independence campaign against the central government in Dakar since 1982. The Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC) has long used Senegal's southern neighbor Guinea-Bissau as a launching pad for attacks inside Cassamance. Guinea-Bissau's former president, Joao Bernardo Viera, was accused of supplying the rebels with weapons until he was overthrown in a coup in May 1999.

With few natural resources and a per capita income of $500 per year, Senegal is one of the poorest countries in the world.Unless it can create the conditions to unlock the productivity of its people and, in so doing, create jobs for thousands of unemployed youth, improve access to education and health care, and give people hope for the future, the country risks falling prey to the despair and demagoguery that have destabilized many of its neighbors.

The area of Senegal called the Casamance is located between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. Agriculturally one of the potential richest regions in Senegal, the Casamance has suffered from the effects of an 18-year separatist movement. Approximately 60,000 civilians have been displaced, and many have lost their means of livelihood. Land mines have been laid in many formerly productive areas. Villages have been abandoned. Infrastructure has been neglected, and investment has come to a virtual standstill.

Tropical Senegal is lauded for its natural beauty, from its urbane capital, Dakar to the fertile forests and farmlands called the Casamance. The lush landscape contrasts with the vast deserts that surround Senegal. The country brings in more visitors than any other country in the region. The physical environment in the south is somewhat different than the northern regions of Senegal. Largely as a result of higher annual rainfall the forest is much more considerable in the Casamance. Still the year has very distinct wet and dry seasons. The forest, as a result of the dry season, is more sub-tropical than jungle type forest, but still there are some areas with very large, old trees and areas with palm trees and vines, etc... The temperature in general is quite warm (between 30 - 40 degrees Celsius) though in Dec. and Jan. at night it cools off enough to need a light blanket.

The causes of the conflict and its perpetuation are complex. Factors often cited as contributors include historical factors, economic neglect, lack of job opportunities for youth, land rights issues, and disrespect for indigenous cultural norms. The conflict has had negative effects on virtually every aspect of life in the Casamance: the environment has degraded due to uncontrolled exploitation or neglect, normal village life and social support systems have been disrupted, poverty has increased, the cities are overcrowded, schools and health posts have been closed or displaced, and investment and tourism have declined.

Senegal is a moderately decentralized republic dominated by the Socialist Party, which has held power since independence. President Abdou Diouf, who had been in office since 1981, was succeeded in early 2000 by the newly elected president, Abdoulaye Wade. In 1996 the Socialist Party won control of all 10 regional governments and many local governments in the country's first subnational level elections, which were marked by credible allegations of widespread fraud and procedural irregularities, gerrymandering, illegal fundraising, and voter list manipulations. Due in part to the flaws in these elections, the Government's decentralization program has had limited success in defusing the secessionist rebellion in the Casamance region.

The Casamance region is an important focus area for the economic development of Senegal due in part to its rich tropical environment. The region is centrally located to facilitate trade with neighboring countries and has some of the largest traditional markets in Senegal. At one time, Casamance was also well known as a major tourist destination in Senegal. Currently, a major constraint affecting development in the Casamance region is its armed separatist struggle that has lead to a sharp decline in the economic and social well being of the population.

In 1982, supporters of the Mouvement des Forces Democratiques de la Casamance demanded that the Govern-ment of Senegal grant independence to the Casamance region, an isolated section of southwestern Senegal located between Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. This demand sparked a two-decade-long conflict, which only recently began to be resolved.

The conflict worsened in the late 1990s with the appearance of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. These landmines have adversely affected the population, agricultural activities and tourism, as well as hampering donor and NGO efforts in the region. No accurate information is available regarding the total quantity of landmines or the number of landmine casualties. Over the years, hundreds of villages have been abandoned and schools and health centres have closed. Hundreds of children and women have become victims of landmines and risk of exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS has increased due to population displacement, the presence of combatants and increased poverty. The nutritional status of children has also deteriorated.

Fighting between the Government of Senegal soldiers and rebels for the Movement of Democratic Forces for the Casamance has adversely affected the potential of the Casamance to contribute fully to the economy of Senegal. It is estimated that the conflict has cut agricultural production by 50 percent. The tourism industry has been devastated by the conflict with many of its 16,000 employees being dismissed as a result of the continuing struggle. In addition, it is estimated that thousands of refugees have fled Casamance to neighboring countries such as Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia.

In 1997 a renewal of fighting in the Casamance area in the southern part of the country between the Government and the secessionist Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC) caused many civilians to flee their villages. MFDC rebel forces reportedly were responsible for killings, disappearances, and torture. Guerrillas of the rebel MFDC were suspected of being responsible for killing many civilians during the fighting in the Casamance. A report by AI issued in September 1997 alleged "tens" of civilian deaths in the Casamance. A report by RADDHO released in the same month listed 16 individuals including Sarani Badiane, who had been killed in the conflict. Of the 16, RADDHO stated that 3 were killed by the army and 12 by the MFDC.

While there were no confirmed reports of political or extrajudicial killings by government officials during the 1997 resurgence of violence in the southern Casamance region, government forces were suspected of responsibility for many civilian deaths. In August 1997 a leader of the MFDC, Sarani Badiane, was found murdered near Ziguinchor. While no group claimed responsibility for the killing and no direct proof of guilt has emerged, the Senegalese human rights organization African Meeting for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO) and Amnesty International (AI) attributed responsibility for Badiane's death to the Government.

Although the leader of the MFDC, Abbe Augustine Diamacoune Senghor, remained free from house arrest in 1997, his movements were controlled by the Government. The Government reportedly blocked a trip by Diamacoune to France to meet with the leader of the MFDC's external wing to coordinate policy in peace talks with the Government. After the killing of Sarani Badiane in August 1997, two of Diamacoune's remaining lieutenants sought refuge with Diamacoune who remained in government custody at a church in Ziguinchor. The Government did not attempt to hinder their joining Diamacoune, but in October 1997 expelled them from Diamacoune's quarters.

In a February 1998 report, Amnesty International (AI) alleged that several mass graves for victims of extrajudicial killings exist in Niaguis and at Niamalang bridge. According to AI, an unknown number of civilians have been killed by civilian authorities or soldiers and have been buried secretly in these mass graves since the early 1990's. There has been no independent confirmation of these allegations.

Sporadic fighting continued through 1999 in the Casamance area in the southern part of the country between the Government and the secessionist Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC). In January the Government and the leadership of the MFDC began a new peace initiative with a meeting between President Diouf and MFDC head Abbe Augustine Diamacoune Senghor. The MFDC leadership then held a conference--the "days of reflection"--in Banjul, the Gambia, in June 1999 to develop a unified position for advancing the peace process.

In its annual report published in July 1999, African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO - a local human rights organization) alleged that MFDC rebels were responsible for the widespread and indiscriminate use of land mines in the Casamance. According to RADDHO the rebels planted the mines in an effort to terrorize both the government security forces and the civilian population. Although it was difficult to determine the extent of their use in the Casamance, RADDHO claimed that up to 80 percent of the arable land in the areas of Ziguinchor, Sedhiou, Oussouy, and Bignona were unusable due to the land mines. RADDHO also estimated that between 1997 and 1998 land mines killed and injured some 500 civilians in the Casamance.

In a report on the Casamance published in June 1999, Amnesty International (AI) charged that the MFDC rebels committed killings and torture of dozens of civilians. According to AI, MFDC guerillas, who belong mainly to the Diola ethnic group, occasionally targeted members of other ethnic groups, such as the Mandingo, Balante, Manjak, and Mancagne, whom they viewed as unsympathetic to their cause. AI also charged that MFDC shelling killed civilians. According to AI, the MFDC also executed government security forces it had taken prisoner.

On 12 February 1999, the Government released 123 suspected MFDC members who had been detained in Dakar, Ziguinchor, and Kolda without trial, some for several years, on grounds of compromising or plotting against the security of the State. The courts ordered their release following the January 1999 meeting between President Diouf and MFDC leader Abbe Diamacoune, which was the beginning of an effort to establish a peace process in the Casamance. The MFDC had demanded the release of all political detainees in connection with the Casamance conflict as a condition for dialog. According to the AI report issued in June 1999, 110 suspected MFDC rebels remained without trial in prisons throughout the country; however, on 30 December 1999 the Government released 44 persons who had been detained in connection with the Casamance conflict.

The internal talks of the rebellion movement hosted in Banjul during June and July 1999, marked an historic turning point for the Casamance peace settlement process which seeks to end the conflict in this region. These talks and the end of the crisis in neighboring Guinea-Bissau have helped pave the way for direct peace negotiations between the GOS and the MFDC during late December 1999.

On 26 December 1999, the Government and MFDC leaders met in the Gambia to begin negotiations on the future of the Casamance. During these talks, the two parties agreed to an immediate ceasefire in the Casamance. The parties also agreed to meet face to face at least once a month to negotiate a peaceful future for the region. At year's end, neither side had a concrete proposal to bring to the negotiating table; however, the parties developed a framework for discussion.

President Wade said he wanted to meet with rebel leaders to hammer out a broader peace agreement. But despite the truce, hard-core elements of the MFDC's armed wing have continued to fight, even attempting to disrupt Senegal's presidential election in February 2000. The militant wing of the MFDC has ignored the recent political changes in Senegal -- including Mr. Wade's election - and remains committed to independence at any cost.

President Wade has advanced a liberal agenda for Senegal, including privatizations and other market-opening measures. He has a strong interest in raising Senegal's regional and international profile. The country, nevertheless, has limited means with which to implement ambitious ideas. The liberalization of the economy is proceeding, but at a slow pace. Senegal continues to play a significant role in regional and international organizations.

The intensity of the conflict has varied over the years. Occasionally there have been violent flare-ups. The areas in which armed robberies/attacks take place have also changed over the course of time. Up until 2000, for example, most of the Kolda region was not an area in which attacks took place. Increasing frequency of cattle rustling and banditry from bands of armed people who routinely fled into Guinea-Bissau resulted in closure of the border with Guinea-Bissau in September 2000.

Throughout the history of the insurgency, there have been few incidents of fighting within the city of Ziguinchor and the resort area of Cap Skirring. In recent years, however, rural areas have been the sites of sporadic violent attacks on Senegalese military and civilian personnel and, on rare occasions, tourists.

The conflict has taken a hard toll on the population living in the Casamance. Normal means of livelihood (rice farming, other agricultural activities, etc.) are no longer possible for a high percentage of the population who no longer have access to their land or who have lost materials due to theft. Normal markets have been disrupted, and many normal services (such as financial services, health posts, schools) have been suspended or ended.

In December 2000, the Government issued a general warning to the national press that the dissemination of communications from the MFDC would be considered attempts to derail the Casamance peace process and would be prosecuted under the Penal Code. On the same day, the publisher and managing editor of the newspaper Le Populaire were summoned and interrogated for 7 hours by the criminal investigation division after the newspaper published a review of the 19-year-old Casamance conflict; 3 days later, they were arrested and then released on the same day after being charged with "disseminating false news and undermining public security." In January 2001 the cases were dropped.

Sporadic fighting continued during 2001 in the Casamance area in the southern part of the country between the Government and the secessionist Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC). The incidence of violence in the Casamance region increased during the year, particularly in June and July, and reportedly resulted in some deaths. The military zone commander for the Casamance region made an effort during the year to reduce the number of human rights abuses committed by security forces under his command. During 2001, the press continued to report on frequent small arms attacks, raids, ambushes, and clashes with military forces by suspected MFDC gunmen, with continuing military and civilian fatalities. In March 2001 the Government and the MFDC signed two peace agreements designed to end the 20-year insurgency; however, these agreements were ineffective and fighting continued in Casamance. Following a change in MFDC leadership in August 2001, new talks were proposed but had not taken place by year's end.

Duirng 2001 Human rights NGO's in Casamance reported a decrease in the number of detentions of suspected MFDC rebels reported by local families; however, in January Amnesty International reported that 30 MFDC sympathizers remained in detention in Dakar and Kolda without trial. According to Amnesty International, the sympathizers were arrested in 2000 because of their Diola ethnic origin; they were charged with compromising state security, but no evidence was provided of their involvement in any acts of violence. Following the signing of a peace accord with the MFDC on March 16, on March 19, the Government released 16 of these prisoners; the remaining 14 prisoners remained in detention at year's end.

Throughout 2002, MFDC gunmen or suspected MFDC gunmen committed numerous killings. For example, in March 2002 suspected MFDC insurgents attacked a group of civilian vehicles 4 kilometers from the town of Diouloulou, near the Gambian border in the Bignona region of the Casamance and killed seven civilians and wounded four. In a government military sweep following this attack, the military killed several suspected MFDC insurgents, although exact figures were not available. In October 2002 suspected MFDC gunmen opened fire on a taxi in Diabang killing three civilian passengers. Military authorities in the Casamance region made an effort during 2002 to reduce the number of human rights abuses committed by security forces under their command, and human rights NGOs confirmed that there were significantly fewer complaints of arbitrary arrests, lengthy detention, and abuse during detention; however, there were no statistics available at year's end. At times, usually during sweeps for MFDC rebels, the security forces temporarily restricted access to the Casamance region or areas within it. The security forces also regularly maintained checkpoints in the Ziguinchor region to screen for MFDC rebels and arms transports. Security forces generally allowed travelers to proceed after checking documents and searching vehicles.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), during the first 2 weeks of May 2002, approximately 2,000 civilians fled the country to the Gambia following clashes between government security forces and MFDC rebels in the Bignona area of northwestern Casamance. The UNHCR reported that 70 percent of these refugees returned to their villages by early June 2002. The numbers of refugees outside the country fluctuated according to the level of violence in the Casamance region; at year's end, it was estimated that several thousand refugees remained outside the country, mostly in the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. A UNHCR census in January 2002 counted 7,000 Senegalese refugees living in the north of Guinea-Bissau.

As of 2002 Secretary-general of the MFDC Augustin Diamacoune Senghor was estimated to have some 2,300 troops under his command.

On 26 May 2003 separatist rebels in Casamance announced the death of Sidi Badji, a hardline leader who had held out against any compromise with the government on Dakar. The Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) has confirmed the death of Badji at the age of about 83. Despite his advancing years, Badji had remained, at least nominally, the head of the MFDC's military wing and commander-in-chief of its guerrilla army. Badji and his supporters opposed the softer line taken by MFDC's veteran President, Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, a Roman Catholic priest who had shown a willingness to settle for a modest degree of autonomy for Casamance. Over the past two years there had been a concerted campaign by local non-governmental organisations and other would-be peacemakers to improve relations between Diamacoune and Badji and to send an unequivocal message of peace to MFDC combatants in the bush.

For the first time in a number of years, by January 2004 there were reasonable expectations for peace in the Casamance, as a result of calls for peace from MFDC members at their annual conference in October 2003. The Government of Senegal and one of the three armed groups agreed to a timeline for pacifying the northern part of the Casamance between Gambia and the city of Ziguinchor. The government is also accelerating efforts to re-establish "normal" economic and social life to provide an alternative to the rebellion. In addition to the prolonged insurgency, armed bandits and landmines present a threat in rural areas.

Up to 15,000 displaced people are expected to return to their home villages in Senegal's southern Casamance province during 2004 as a low-level insurgency that had gone on for two decades petered out, but little was being done by the international community to assist them. In January 2004 Refugees International said over 50,000 people had been displaced from their homes as a result of a rebellion by separatist guerillas in the narrrow strip of swampy forested land bounded to the north by Gambia and to the south by Guinea-Bissau. Refugees International said in a statement that the Association of Young Farmers in Casamance (AJAC APREN) expected 10,000 to 15,000 displaced people to return to their home villages in 2004.

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