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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Friday 21 October 2005

GAMBIA-SENEGAL: Burying the hatchet

DAKAR, 21 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - Senegal and Gambia announced on Friday they were putting to rest a dispute that has disrupted cross-border travel and trade over the last two months.

Coming out of a meeting in Senegal's capital Dakar, the host country's President Abdoulaye Wade, his Gambian counterpart Yahya Jammeh, and Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo, who oversaw the talks, announced that the two neighbours had managed to overcome their differences and now would work together.

"We went too long without talking," said Jammeh after the meeting. "There are still and will always be problems but we need dialogue to find solutions."

Anglophone Gambia, a mere 35 km wide by 300 km long, is wedged inside its far bigger French-speaking neighbour and separates Senegal's arid north from its tropical Casamance region in the south.

Following Gambia's decision in August to double the price of ferries that provide the quickest route between north and south, angry Senegalese truck drivers refused to pay, opting instead to block border crossings and make the long detour on bad roads around Gambia.

And although Gambia announced a 15 percent fare reduction earlier this month, both the blockade and the tensions between the two countries remained.

But on Friday, Gambia agreed to a satisfactory price cut and to the construction of a bridge to connect the two countries. Such a link would do away with Senegalese concerns over Gambia's power to raise ferry rates unilaterally, which Jammeh himself said had played a role in the dispute.

"We didn't notify the Senegalese government that we planned to raise the prices and they, for their part, should not have shut down the border," he said.

Senegal, for its part, will raise the border blockade that has taken a toll on trade well beyond the borders of the two belligerents, also affecting neighbouring countries like Guinea-Bissau, which imports the majority of its food and textiles from Senegal and Gambia.

"I have asked the prime minister to tell the customs officials to allow traffic through," Wade said in a departure from his government's earlier position that the blockade was the spontaneous action of transportation unions. "There should be no obstacles to the flow of people or goods."

Despite concessions and words of friendship, however, problems may linger on.

"One can't expect that everything can be wrapped up in a single day," said Obasanjo who was appointed to mediate the dispute last month by the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). "There will still need to be working meetings between the two governments."

Gambia's government has agreed to allow the construction of a bridge in the past, most recently in 2003, but plans have always fallen through.

And earlier this month, Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio said that the ferry dispute was only a small part of a much bigger and permanent problem between the two countries, which despite different colonial experiences, are similar in terms of religion, ethnicity and language.

These natural bonds led the two countries to form the Senegambian Confederacy for a short time in the 1980s and were a favourite theme on Friday as the need for Nigerian intervention was downplayed.

"President Obasanjo did not come as a mediator," Wade said. "Between Senegal and Gambia, we don't need anyone else."


[ENDS]

This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but May not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005



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