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SENEGAL: Attacks in Casamance despite peace move

Ziguinchor, 5 December 2006 (IRIN) - One person was dead on Tuesday following an armed attack on vehicles in the southern Casamance region just over two weeks after President Abdoulaye Wade asked local elders to help end the rebellion.

About 20 men on Monday night ambushed five vehicles on a road 80 km north of the regional capital, Ziguinchor, and robbed the occupants, hospital sources said. One of the passengers died and five others were injured.

Two people sustained gunshot wounds in another attack on a car near the village of Manpalago, 60 km north of Ziguinchor, one of the passengers told IRIN.

Thousands of people have crossed the border into neighbouring Gambia in recent months to escape fighting between the rebels and government troops. Others have fled after seeing the army, fearing skirmishes were imminent.

President Wade met with more than 100 Casamance elders last month and asked them to broker a peace deal with rebels from the Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), according to state-run television. Dino Aidara, a spokesman the elders, said rebel representatives who attended the meeting included Salif Sadio, Magne Dieme and Kamoughe Diatta. The MFDC over the years has splintered into a number of factions.

Wade reportedly made the pledge to allocate the Casamance elders some 60 million CFA (US $122,000) and logistical support to conduct their mission.

"We are in permanent contact with the rebel fighters and they listen to us and are ready to lay down their weapons if we are able to offer a definitive peace deal," Dino said. "We have the support of all of the elders of Casamance."

For the past year the situation in Casamance has been in the hands of Mbaye Jacques, the president of the High Council for Economic and Social Affairs and local residents have complained that there has been little progress toward ending the more than two-decade-old conflict. A number of peace deals in recent years have failed to achieve lasting results.

"From now on I am giving you the mission to meet the rebels and negotiate for a definitive peace in Casamance," Wade said, according to state television. “I am not going appoint anyone else to deal with the Casamance dossier."

However, President Wade's initiative does not appear to have the attention of all the factions of the MFDC. Daniel Diatta, coordinator of one faction of the separatist movement and a close ally to its historical leader, Roman Catholic Priest Diamacoune Senghor, accuses the elders of treachery and opportunism.

"These elders are just politicians who want to use the MFDC for their own profit, but they cannot influence any decision process in the movement," Diatta told IRIN. "They are just bounty hunters who are betraying people and are not representative and so cannot convince anyone within the MFDC."

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[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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