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Two Senegalese Soldiers Shot Dead During Demining Operation

Senegalese army officials say two soldiers were shot to death in an ambush in the southern Casamance region. For more than two decades, the area has seen sporadic violence involving separatist rebels and the national army. For VOA, Jordan Davis reports from Dakar.

Officials say a troop convoy was fired on Wednesday near the Gambian border, 40 kilometers east of the regional capital Ziginchor.

They say two died from bullet wounds and 14 were injured when their truck veered off the road. The soldiers were providing security for a landmine removal team.

Army spokesman Colonel Antoine Wardini says the identity of the shooters is not immediately clear.

"When we stepped out of the car and tried to investigate the area, the snipers had run away," he said. "So we have not caught them. I am pretty sure they are doing these kinds of operations just to try to discourage us from keeping up with the de-mining operation."

The rebel group Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance signed a peace deal with officials in Dakar two years ago, but some hardliners have refused to agree.

The VOA was unable to reach representatives of the separatist group for comment.

Casamance is wedged between Gambia and Guinea-Bissau and is cut off from much of the rest of Senegal. Separatists have claimed their region is often neglected.

In more than 20 years of fighting, Senegalese and rebel forces laid thousands of mines across Casamance.

The British-based Handicap International estimates landmines have maimed nearly 800 people there.

Officials in Dakar have pledged to de-mine the entire region by the year 2009.