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Civilians Flee Renewed Violence in Northern Senegal


Civilians from the northern Casamance region of Senegal are being displaced again, following renewed fighting between rebel groups. Hundreds of people are reported to have fled to the nearby Gambian border region to find safety. Selah Hennessy reports from the VOA West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Local journalist Alpha Jallow has seen hundreds of villagers from northern Casamance fleeing the region during the past few days. He says they are going to the Gambian border region, where they hope to find protection with the Red Cross or with family members already living in villages there.

He has spoken with many people who are fleeing because they say the situation is too dangerous.

"I just spoke to a woman who just came from Balaye, she said that there are still firing gunshot fire, they are hearing sporadic gunshot fire everywhere and because they know the situation is quite dangerous they decided to flee," said Alpha Jallow.

He says many people seem scared and exhausted, and will have to make long journeys to find safety.

"The lady I spoke to was quite helpless, because I just saw her with her two children and then she was quite tired, quite disfigured, because she said she has to walk for a very long distance before she can get transport that will bring her to Bidgornam," he said. "She also said that in Bidgorna she is going to stay with family members until things calm down."

Robert Reeve, an analyst at the British research organization Chatham House, says going to the Gambia is a common destination for displaced civilians from the Casamance region.

"There are about 6,000 Senegalese refugees from Casamance in Gambia most of the time, but you get a few thousand more coming and going from the northern area which has been the most active combat zone for the past year or so," said Robert Reeve.

According to Jallow, the local journalist, rebel factions are competing for territory in the region. He says an alliance of rebel groups are fighting the hard-line wing of the Movement for Democratic Forces in the Casamance, led by Salif Sadio. The breakaway rebel factions claim Sadio's group is terrorizing the local population and taking over local business.

Rebels have been fighting for more autonomy in Casamance which borders both the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, since the early 1980's, but there have been increasing splits within their movement.

Main rebel leaders signed a peace accord with Senegal's government in 2004, but fighting never completely ended. Some rebels never agreed to the talks.

The recent killings of several Senegalese government officials in the Casamance region remain unsolved.

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