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Travelers, Tourists Attacked in Southern Senegal

A group of bandits believed to be members of a rebel group has ambushed cars and robbed passengers on a main road in Southern Senegal. Brent Latham reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar a Senegalese soldier was killed during the incident.

Witnesses say about 30 bandits set up the roadblock late Tuesday on the main highway 20 kilometers north of Ziguinchor, the capital of the Casamance region.

They stopped about 12 vehicles by pushing a large tree over the road.

The bandits executed a Senegalese soldier they identified among passengers of one of the stopped vehicles, says Alpha Jallow, a reporter in Ziguinchor.

"When they stopped the vehicles, they asked all of them to get out of the vehicles, and they were lined up," said Jallow. "The rebels were screening them to know their real identities. They found out that among the number of people there, there was one Senegalese soldier. Now when he was identified, he was just shot in cold blood. He was killed."

Also stopped was a minivan carrying 14 Spanish tourists on holiday in the picturesque region. A spokesman for the Spanish Embassy in Dakar confirmed that none of the tourists was injured, and that they were safe in a hotel in Ziguinchor.

The bandit group is believed to be a faction of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance, or MFDC. A rebel spokesman denied his group participated in the assault.

The group has clashed intermittently with army forces since signing a peace agreement with the Senegalese government in 2004, formally ending a war that had dragged on since 1982.

Factions of the MFDC have been responsible for numerous ambushes like this one, the most recent in May.

Also in May, a faction of the MFDC attacked a group of cashew harvesters near the border with Guinea-Bissau. The peasants had their ears cut off by the rebels.

The Casamance is a relatively underdeveloped area in Senegal's extreme southwest, cut off from the rest of the country by Gambia.

The rebellion claims to represent the region's majority Diola people. Rebel leaders say the Diola have been marginalized by Senegal's majority Wolof population in the north.

In recent years, the MFDC has become split, with factions operating in the north of the region on the border with Gambia, and others in the south across the border with Guinea-Bissau.