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Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC)

Rebels in Senegal's southern Casamance [Cassamance] province have been waging a bloody independence campaign against the central government in Dakar since 1982. The Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC) has long used Senegal's southern neighbor Guinea-Bissau as a launching pad for attacks inside Cassamance. Guinea-Bissau's former president, Joao Bernardo Viera, was accused of supplying the rebels with weapons until he was overthrown in a coup in May 1999.

Senegal is a moderately decentralized republic dominated by the Socialist Party, which has held power since independence. President Abdou Diouf, who had been in office since 1981, was succeeded in early 2000 by the newly elected president, Abdoulaye Wade. In 1996 the Socialist Party won control of all 10 regional governments and many local governments in the country's first subnational level elections, which were marked by credible allegations of widespread fraud and procedural irregularities, gerrymandering, illegal fundraising, and voter list manipulations. Due in part to the flaws in these elections, the Government's decentralization program has had limited success in defusing the secessionist rebellion in the Casamance region.

In 1997 a renewal of fighting in the Casamance area in the southern part of the country between the Government and the secessionist Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC) caused many civilians to flee their villages. MFDC rebel forces reportedly were responsible for killings, disappearances, and torture. Guerrillas of the rebel MFDC were suspected of being responsible for killing many civilians during the fighting in the Casamance. A report by AI issued in September 1997 alleged "tens" of civilian deaths in the Casamance. A report by RADDHO released in the same month listed 16 individuals including Sarani Badiane, who had been killed in the conflict. Of the 16, RADDHO stated that 3 were killed by the army and 12 by the MFDC.

While there were no confirmed reports of political or extrajudicial killings by government officials during the 1997 resurgence of violence in the southern Casamance region, government forces were suspected of responsibility for many civilian deaths. In August 1997 a leader of the MFDC, Sarani Badiane, was found murdered near Ziguinchor. While no group claimed responsibility for the killing and no direct proof of guilt has emerged, the Senegalese human rights organization African Meeting for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO) and Amnesty International (AI) attributed responsibility for Badiane's death to the Government.

Although the leader of the MFDC, Abbe Augustine Diamacoune Senghor, remained free from house arrest in 1997, his movements were controlled by the Government. The Government reportedly blocked a trip by Diamacoune to France to meet with the leader of the MFDC's external wing to coordinate policy in peace talks with the Government. After the killing of Sarani Badiane in August 1997, two of Diamacoune's remaining lieutenants sought refuge with Diamacoune who remained in government custody at a church in Ziguinchor. The Government did not attempt to hinder their joining Diamacoune, but in October 1997 expelled them from Diamacoune's quarters. In a February 1998 report, Amnesty International (AI) alleged that several mass graves for victims of extrajudicial killings exist in Niaguis and at Niamalang bridge. According to AI, an unknown number of civilians have been killed by civilian authorities or soldiers and have been buried secretly in these mass graves since the early 1990's. There has been no independent confirmation of these allegations.

Sporadic fighting continued through 1999 in the Casamance area in the southern part of the country between the Government and the secessionist Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC). In January the Government and the leadership of the MFDC began a new peace initiative with a meeting between President Diouf and MFDC head Abbe Augustine Diamacoune Senghor. The MFDC leadership then held a conference--the "days of reflection"--in Banjul, the Gambia, in June 1999 to develop a unified position for advancing the peace process.

In its annual report published in July 1999, African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO - a local human rights organization) alleged that MFDC rebels were responsible for the widespread and indiscriminate use of land mines in the Casamance. According to RADDHO the rebels planted the mines in an effort to terrorize both the government security forces and the civilian population. Although it was difficult to determine the extent of their use in the Casamance, RADDHO claimed that up to 80 percent of the arable land in the areas of Ziguinchor, Sedhiou, Oussouy, and Bignona were unusable due to the land mines. RADDHO also estimated that between 1997 and 1998 land mines killed and injured some 500 civilians in the Casamance.

In a report on the Casamance published in June 1999, Amnesty International (AI) charged that the MFDC rebels committed killings and torture of dozens of civilians. According to AI, MFDC guerillas, who belong mainly to the Diola ethnic group, occasionally targeted members of other ethnic groups, such as the Mandingo, Balante, Manjak, and Mancagne, whom they viewed as unsympathetic to their cause. AI also charged that MFDC shelling killed civilians. According to AI, the MFDC also executed government security forces it had taken prisoner.

On 12 February 1999, the Government released 123 suspected MFDC members who had been detained in Dakar, Ziguinchor, and Kolda without trial, some for several years, on grounds of compromising or plotting against the security of the State. The courts ordered their release following the January 1999 meeting between President Diouf and MFDC leader Abbe Diamacoune, which was the beginning of an effort to establish a peace process in the Casamance. The MFDC had demanded the release of all political detainees in connection with the Casamance conflict as a condition for dialog. According to the AI report issued in June 1999, 110 suspected MFDC rebels remained without trial in prisons throughout the country; however, on 30 December 1999 the Government released 44 persons who had been detained in connection with the Casamance conflict.

On 26 December 1999, the Government and MFDC leaders met in the Gambia to begin negotiations on the future of the Casamance. During these talks, the two parties agreed to an immediate ceasefire in the Casamance. The parties also agreed to meet face to face at least once a month to negotiate a peaceful future for the region. At year's end, neither side had a concrete proposal to bring to the negotiating table; however, the parties developed a framework for discussion.

President Wade has said he wants to meet with rebel leaders to hammer out a broader peace agreement. But despite the truce, hard-core elements of the MFDC's armed wing have continued to fight, even attempting to disrupt Senegal's presidential election in February 2000. The militant wing of the MFDC has ignored the recent political changes in Senegal -- including Mr. Wade's election - and remains committed to independence at any cost.

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Updated Thursday, April 13, 2000 5:35:56 PM