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Leader's Death Highlights Senegal Rebels' Divisions


Sunday's death of the symbolic chief of the rebellion in Senegal's southern Casamance region is highlighting deep divisions among the remaining leaders of the largely low-level rebel movement. Jordan Davis reports from Dakar.

Augustin Diamacoune Senghor is credited by many for his political vision and willingness to discuss a peaceful end to the Casamance conflict with the Senegalese government.

In 2004, Diamacoune signed a peace accord with President Abdoulaye Wade.

That deal was supposed to put an end to the two-decade long armed independence struggle waged by the Movement of Democratic Forces in Casamance, known as the MFDC. But much of the group's armed wing never signed onto the agreement.

Former MFDC Secretary General Ansoumana Badji says the movement has always had divergent viewpoints. Diversity, he says, is the MFDC's strength.

But observers say Diamacoune's death could set off a leadership battle among MFDC dissidents.

Senegalese political observer Babacar Justin Ndiaye says for several years there has been total confusion within the rebel group. He says since then the armed wing has split into a number of smaller, rogue groups.

Dissident rebel leader Salif Sadio still commands a number of armed troops. Officials in Dakar blamed his forces for an ambush on Senegalese troops last month that killed two soldiers.

No one has claimed responsibility for that attack and other recent violence.

And while Diamacoune had given up calls for Casamance to break away from Senegal, armed rebels and radical MFDC members in exile in Paris still call for independence.

Augustin Diamacoune Senghor died Sunday at the age of 78 in a Paris hospital, where he was undergoing medical treatment.

The armed battle for independence in Casamance began in 1982 and it is estimated hundreds died in sporadic clashes between the government and rebels. Independence activists claimed the region was ignored by officials in the capital, Dakar.

Casamance is geographically isolated, separated from the rest of Senegal by The Gambia.

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