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Senegal Government Moves to End Casamance Rebellion

  • Nico Colombant

Senegal's government and insurgents from the restive southern Casamance region are preparing to sign a peace accord to end more than two decades of low-level conflict.

The deal exchanges new economic aid from international lenders - about $127 million - in exchange for rebels disarming and dropping claims on independence. Up to 4,000 rebels, known as "maquisards," remain armed.

The money is expected to go toward rebuilding villages and developing the tourism, timber, cashew nut and fishing industries.

London-based researcher Alex Vines who recently oversaw a study on the Casamance conflict says one of the challenges will be for donors to actually deliver.

"Donors are particularly bad at pledging and then not delivering," he said. "Then it's about very proper monitored programs, microcredit financing. The root cause of the Casamance problem are about a sense of greater poverty and marginalization compared with the rest of the country and so for sustainable developing of Casamance, to ensure that peace really is lasting, this is absolutely the front line and the central issue."

Mr. Vines says another challenge will be disarming all fighters, including several hundred of them who now form fringe movements.

"There is a hardcore entity that basically are asking just for independence for Casamance and are not prepared to negotiate and are not prepared to enter into dialogue," he said. "Although the numbers are very small, these people could be spoilers in that they could conduct armed activity, they could still conduct sporadic military operations. The challenge will be how to deal with them."

Members of some factions recently claimed they were getting arms from the recently concluded conflict in Liberia by way of traditional fishing boats, known as pirogues.

The conflict in Casamance has also been linked to military uprisings in Guinea-Bissau to the south and with increased banditry in The Gambia which is wedged inside Senegal.

The uprising began in December 1982, when protesters in the main city Ziguinchor replaced the Senegalese flag above some public buildings with the white flag of Casamance. A year later, dozens of people were killed in clashes between security forces and separatists, initiating two decades of sporadic violence which has killed more than 3,000 people and displaced tens of thousands of civilians.

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