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Casamance Independence Leader Dies at 78

The leading figure of the independence movement in Senegal's Casamance region has died in a Paris hospital. Jordan Davis reports from Dakar that observers say the death of 78-year-old Augustin Diamacoune Senghor will complicate efforts to bring an end to nearly a quarter of a century of separatist conflict.

Augustin Diamacoune Senghor is remembered as the charismatic leader of Casamance's nationalist movement.

In 1982, when independence protests swept the southern region, Senegalese authorities arrested Diamacoune and charged him with sedition.

The Catholic priest spent five years in prison and later took the helm of the Movement of Democratic Forces in Casamance, known as the MFDC. After decades of sporadic fighting between the MFDC and Senegalese forces that killed hundreds, Diamacoune signed a 2004 peace agreement with President Abdoulaye Wade.

Several MFDC factions did not participate. The independence movement has been deeply fragmented since the peace accord.

Political scientist Babacar Justin Ndiaye says Diamacoune's death will make Mr. Wade's promise of peace in Casamance more difficult to achieve.

"The government's priority will be to find a new rebel representative to work with. Somebody with the same stature as Diamacoune, which is not easy to find. On the ground all you have are rebel fighters that do not have his political sense, nor his following, nor his personality," said Ndiaye.

After a relative lull, violence in Casamance has picked up in recent months.

MFDC factions are believed to be behind the December ambush of Senegalese soldiers on a de-mining mission. Official say two soldiers died and fourteen were injured.

Just before the New Year, the president of the Ziguinchor regional council, was assassinated in his home. Senegalese leaders blamed the killing on rebels, although no group has taken responsibility.