Speaking to journalist Ibrahima Gassama of Zik FM, the hardcore militarist said he invoked the ceasefire purposely to give chance to the ongoing peace negotiations with the government of Senegal. Mr Sadio however warned the Senegalese authorities not to use the lull in hostilities for any reinforcement of troops in the region or tactical manoeuvres. He said his decision to announce the ceasefire was approved by “the people of Ziguinchor”, the provincial capital of the restive southern province of Senegal.
The Casamance conflict is a low-level civil war that has been waged between the Government of Senegal and the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance since 1982. The MFDC has called for the independence of the Casamance region, whose population is religiously and ethnically distinct from the rest of Senegal. The bloodiest years of the conflict were during the 1992-2001 period and resulted in over a thousand battle related deaths.
On December 30, 2004 an agreement was reached between the MFDC and the government which promised to provide the voluntary integration of MFDC fighters into the country’s paramilitary forces, economic recovery programmes for Casamance, de-mining and aid to returning refugees. Nevertheless some hard-line factions of the MFDC soon defected from elements of the MFDC who had signed the agreement and no negotiations took place following the breakdown of talks in Foundiougne on 2 February 2005.
Fighting again emerged in 2010 and 2011 but waned following the April 2012 election of Macky Sall. Peace negotiations under the auspices of Saint Egidio community took place in Rome and on 14 December 2012, President Sall announced that Casamance would be a test-case for advanced decentralisation policy.
Separated from the rest of Senegal by The Gambia, Casamance is richer in mineral and ecological resources than the rest of Senegal and produces most of the country’s food, rice and cotton. The principal inhabitants of the region are Jolas and many are Christians or animists. The sentiment has existed amongst the Jola that they do not benefit sufficiently from the region’s richness and that Dakar, the capital, reaps most of the benefits.
According to sources, Senegal’s first president, Leopold Senghor, made a promise to Casamance’s leaders before independence from France in 1960 that if they joined Senegal for 20 years they would have their own independence afterwards. When the government did not follow through on the promise in 1980, street demonstrations in the Casamance capital, Ziguinchor, turned violent.
Several ceasefires were agreed during the 1990s, but none lasted, and the conflict hit European headlines when four French tourists disappeared, both sides blaming each other. Father Augustin Diamacoune Senghor had come to lead the MFDC and pursued a policy of talks and reconciliation. However, the Senegalese government refused to consider independence for the region, leading some MFDC members to split and restart the fighting.
Another ceasefire was signed in 1997, but about 500 people were reported dead in battles up until March 2001, when Senghor and Abdoulaye Wade, the president of Senegal, agreed to a peace deal. This allowed for the release of prisoners, the return of refugees and clearance of land mines but did not bring autonomy. Some in the MFDC regarded this as a betrayal, and the movement split with two factions battling each other.
Since the split, low-level fighting has continued in the region. Another round of negotiations took place in 2005. Its results were, however, proved partial and armed clashes between MFDC factions and the army continued in 2006, prompting thousands of civilians to flee across the border to The Gambia. Father Senghor died in January 2007.
In October 2010, an illegal shipment of arms from Iran was seized in Lagos, Nigeria. The Senegalese government suspected that the arms were destined for the Casamance, and recalled its ambassador to Tehran over the matter. Heavy fighting occurred in December 2010 when about 100 MDFC fighters attempted to take Bignona south of the Gambian border supported by heavy weapons, such as mortars and machine guns. They were repulsed with several casualties by Senegalese soldiers who suffered seven deaths in the engagement.
On December 21, 2011, Senegal media reported that 12 soldiers were killed in Senegal’s Casamance region following a separatist rebel attack on an army base near the town of Bignona. Three more soldiers were killed in an attack the Senegalese government blamed on separatists in the region on February 14, 2012. The attacks continued into March as four soldiers were killed and eight others injured in two separate incidents on the 11th and 23rd.
On April 5, 2012, newly sworn-in President Macky Sall said that ensuring peace in the south would be a top priority for his administration in his first public speech since taking office. He also expressed confidence that the leaders of The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau can be involved in the efforts to find a solution to the long-running conflict.]]>