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Senegal Army Hunts for Separatist Rebels - 2002-06-24

Military sources in Senegal said Sunday the army has launched a massive hunt for armed separatist rebels in the West African country's southern Casamance region.

According to Senegalese military sources, the army operation in Bignona, northwest of the Casamance capital, Ziguinchor, came in response to what it describes as recent acts by armed rebel groups that have threatened security in the Bignona district.

Regional military commander, Moktar Gueye, said that the operation, launched Friday, was part of a fight against all forms of bandit groups on national territory, and that it was aimed at restoring state authority in the area.

Casamance has been the battleground of a separatist rebellion for some 20 years, led by groups calling themselves the Casamance Movement of Democratic Forces, or MFDC. Cease-fires have often been agreed, but never kept.

Things came to a head again at the end of April, when suspected rebels killed seven people and wounded four near a village in Bignona.

In a statement, the military commander has called on all residents to stay indoors during the army operation. But hundreds have begun fleeing their villages for Ziguinchor, fearing that they will be targeted by the big army operation.

In a similar operation last month, the soldiers arrested over 30 people suspected of belonging to the MFDC.

The MFDC has been split since its political leaders agreed a cease-fire with President Abdoulaye Wade's government just over a year ago. Last October, separatist leaders claimed that the group was out of money, and they warned hunger among MFDC fighters was spurring a resurgence of violence in the Casamance region.