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Senegal Signs Peace Pact with Casamance Rebels

Senegal's government has signed a peace pact with rebels from the southern Casamance region, to end a more than two-decade low-level conflict.

More than 10,000 people, many of them waving Senegalese flags, gathered in a public square in the main Casamance city of Ziguinchor Thursday to witness the signing of the peace agreement.

Some of the several dozen former rebels attending had not been to Ziguinchor since the start of their insurgency in 1982.

Mrs. Kadoa, who was among the cheering throng, wept.

She said she hoped 2005 would bring peace, and that the conflict would now be referred to as "once upon a time."

Several thousand people have been killed during the insurgency, but it has disrupted the entire region, driving down the local cashew-based economy, and pock-marking white sand beaches with landmines.

One of the dignitaries present at Thursday's signing ceremony was the National Assembly president from neighboring Guinea-Bissau, Francisco Benante.

He says the whole region suffers when the people of Casamance suffer. He also assured Guinea-Bissau no longer gives a safe haven to rebels from Casamance.

The rebellion had created a dense network of illicit and criminal connections within the region, including the Gambia, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Several hours after the signing ceremony, led by Senegal's interior minister, Ousmane Ngom, and the aging rebel leader, 77-year-old Father Diamacoune Senghor, a local official read out the full text of the agreement.

The pact renounces the armed conflict and calls for further negotiations on disarmament, rehabilitation of former fighters and reconstruction of the region.

Several small fringe groups within the rebel movement refused to attend, and released statements saying their fight for independence continues.

London-based analyst from the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Alex Vines, says this could be worrisome, especially with research indicating small arms are still flowing into the region.

"The worrying part of what's going on is, of course, the proliferation of light weapons, and the field research that we did showed that weapons that had been originating from Liberia were being trafficked by pirogue boats around the coast to Casamance," he said. "This, of course, does indicate, still, that some individuals are re-arming. Of course, the purpose for this isn't clear. They may be maintaining an insurance policy in case the peace process doesn't progress smoothly."

Two previous cease-fire agreements in 1991 and 2001 were largely ignored. But attacks have been abating since President Abdoulaye Wade took power in 2000, promising more development aid for the Casamance region.

Mr. Wade arrived late in the day, riding in an open-top car and flashing a victory sign.