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Villagers Flee Fighting in Senegal's Casamance Region

01 March 2007

Villagers in Senegal's volatile Casamance region are fleeing renewed fighting between rebels and government forces. Naomi Schwarz has more from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

Fighting in the north of Senegal's turbulent Casamance region has chased many villagers from their homes, says local journalist Alpha Jallow.

"In the village I visited yesterday, the village of Tendouck, which had a population of 500 people, almost nobody [is] left. All of them have fled the area," he said.

Villagers rushed away from violence, many on foot, to a larger nearby village or across the border to the Gambia.

But Jallow says some were not able to leave.

"I spoke to an old man called Ousmane Diediou," he added. "I asked him why he has not left the village. He said that he has no choice because right now he cannot leave the village, because he is taking care of his animals, his goats and his cattle."

Spokesman for the Senegalese Army, Colonel Antoine Wardini, confirmed the army fired mortar shots in the area, but says he cannot confirm that civilians fled.

"I cannot confirm it because we were not in the village," he said. "We did not go into the village for anything like that. We did not go for fighting, we did not shoot. We treated an area northeast of the village, northeast, it is about two, three, kilometers from the village, in a forest, where some enemies were signaled."

Political analyst, Babacar Justin Ndiaye, says this recent bout of fighting is connected to the presidential election held last Sunday.

He says the rebels want to show the Senegalese government cannot run an election in Casamance.

The rebels have been fighting for more autonomy since the early 1980s. Leaders of the rebellion signed a peace agreement with the government in 2004, but Ndiaye says the fighting never completely stopped.

He says the fighting is sporadic. This week it was intense, he says, but it comes and goes.

Analysts say that the separatist movement has become increasingly factionalized, and even if there is a peace agreement, radical members of the rebellion will continue to fight.

The rebellion has gotten little international attention, over the decades of fighting.

Senegalese analyst Ndiaye says this is because Senegal's government is democratic, and the rebels do not have much popular support.

The rebels say that the Casamance was never meant to be incorporated into Senegal after independence. It is separated from the rest of the country by the former-British-colony, the Gambia

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