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Senegal's Casamance Villagers Say They Are Tired of Fleeing


Intermittent fighting between rebel groups in Senegal's southern Casamance region has led 1,000 or more refugees to flee across the border to The Gambia. Naomi Schwarz has more for VOA from Dakar.

After more than two decades of fighting between rebel groups and the Senegalese government, villagers in the Casamance region of southern Senegal have become accustomed to fleeing from their homes.

Most of the people in this lush, tropical region are farmers. When they flee their homes, they have to round up their livestock and bring them across the border with them.

In the northern part of Casamance, the nearest border is with The Gambia, and villagers there have close family and economic ties on both sides of the border, says local journalist Alpha Jallow.

"All their things, all their basic commodities they got. from The Gambia," he said. "Some of their children are attending school in The Gambia. A lot of [men] are finding work in The Gambia."

Jallow says these connections make it easier for the people in this part of Casamance to head for The Gambia when fighting flares up.

"So just a little disturbance will send them into Gambia," hr said. "Because right now in Gambia, a lot of them are not staying with the Gambia Red Cross Society, but they are staying with relatives."

Lamine Gassama, with the Gambian Red Cross, says the constant movement makes it hard for the humanitarian organization to provide real help.

"The challenge is basically because most of them are not patient," said Gassama. "They move forth and back."

Teneng Sambou who fled her village with her two daughters, says she too, is tired of going back and forth.

Sambou says they need help from the government to clear out the rebels once and for all.

Rebels in Casamance, who have been fighting for more autonomy from Dakar, signed a peace agreement with the Senegalese government in 2004. But some of the rebel leaders have not accepted the accord and fighting has continued. In addition, hostilities have recently broken out between opposing rebel factions.

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