Accessibility links

Senegal's Casamance Separatists Agree to Peace Agenda

Senegal's government and southern Casamance separatists have agreed to finalize a peace accord by the end of May to end a two-decade low-level insurgency.

Government officials and rebel negotiators signed a joint statement in the central city of Foundiougne saying they would set up technical committees to discuss a political settlement, disarmament, development, and demining of the Casamance region.

This follows an accord signed December 30 in the Casamance capital Ziguinchor putting an end to the armed conflict which began in the early 1980s.

Senegalese-based journalist Oumar Gaye says many people in the region hope the deal will finally put an end to the activities of the rebellion. These include pock-marking white sand beaches with landmines, driving down the local cashew-based economy and attacking travelers and security posts. Several-thousand people are believed to have been killed.

"We hope that this will have an end," Mr. Gaye says. "We hope that Casamance will have peace and many people will be able to go there. Many people they are afraid for the mines. They are afraid to be killed or something like that."

The separatists say they hope aid money which has been pledged as part of the deal will help revitalize impoverished Casamance, which is cut off from the rest of Senegal by the Gambia.

A London-based analyst who recently conducted a study about the separatist movement, Alex Vines, says Senegal's government and President Abdoulaye Wade also have a lot to gain.

"The ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] states in West Africa are a rough neighborhood and President Wade has tried to mediate in a number of them and has at times been told by some of his neighbors who are having problems, 'well why don't you sort your backyard first before trying to mediate in ours', so this is important for Senegal," Mr. Vines says.

But given the history of the separatists, journalist Oumar Gaye warns if they get compensation from the government, they might resume their rebellion rather than stop it.

"I think it remains the same," Mr. Gaye says. "When they are poor, when they no longer have food, they will call for peace talks. Right after that, when they get all the stuff, they went back in the forests, and those who are traveling to the Gambia or to Guinea-Bissau they will attack. I do not think they are ready for the peace, for the total peace."

Researchers warn there has been increased arms smuggling in the region, and that fringe groups within the increasingly fractured Casamance separatists could also resist the peace efforts.