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Friday, August 18, 2006

Rebel factions clash in southern Senegal

Dakar - Skirmishes have broken out between rebel factions in Senegal's southern Casamance region after a separatist leader was chased back there from neighbouring Guinea Bissau earlier this year, Senegal's army said on Thursday.

Salif Sadio, a hardline leader of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), had fled to Guinea Bissau after coming under attack from rival rebel factions at home.

"There have been clashes between rival factions of the MFDC near the border with Gambia but we have not been involved in this fighting," said Antoine Wardini, spokesperson for the Senegalese army.

Hospital sources in Gambia said two suspected rebel fighters had been brought in with serious injuries after being shot in the stomach and back, while an official from the Gambian Red Cross said some civilians had fled over the border.

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"We are presently embarking on a survey to ascertain the number of refugees that have fled into Gambia," Lamin Gassama, an official with the aid group, told reporters in Banjul.

Casamance is a fertile region, rich in cashew nuts, fisheries, rice fields and palm-oil plantations, sandwiched between Gambia to the north and Guinea Bissau to the south. It has long been one of Senegal's main tourist attractions.

The MFDC rebels first took up arms against Senegal's government in 1982, accusing it of neglecting the region. The violence has since been generally low-level although a string of peace moves has failed to rein in hardliners.

Sadio's followers have refused to join rival factions who favour negotiations with the government. A military source said the Senegalese army had been retaking positions given up as part of a 2004 peace deal because of renewed insecurity.

The fighting in April, when Sadio was pushed back into Senegal, was the heaviest for years.

His forces laid landmines to stave off artillery and infantry attacks by Guinea Bissau's army, forced more than 5 000 people from their homes, aid workers said at the time.
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