Six soldiers killed in Senegal after ambush

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Six Senegalese soldiers were killed in an ambush near the country's border with Guinea-Bissau late on Friday, according to reports. The clashes come after Senegalese rebels in the area started stepping up their attacks.

The soldiers were returning from patrol in the Niagha district along Senegal's border with Guinea Bissau when they were ambushed in an attack thought to have been carried out by rebels from the Casamance Movement of Democratic Forces (MFDC).

It was one of the deadliest attacks against Senegalese troops in recent years, and comes a day after gunmen killed one person and wounded three others in an attack on a taxi in the region. A reporter for Voice of America in Casamance said that more than 1,000 civilians have fled the area near the Bissau border and are camping along the national highway toward Ziguinchor.

The Senegalese air force last month bombed rebel bases near Ziguinchor after suspected MFDC fighters killed a soldier at an army outpost. Two people were killed in an attack on a bus in August.

The Casamance is Senegal's southern district, separated geographically from the rest of the country by Gambia. The rebellion there is one of Africa's longest-running conflicts.

It was originally begun as a separatist movement of ethnic Dioula fighting for greater autonomy from the government in Dakar. A 2004 peace accord restored order in Casamance and led to hopes that the region might once again become a valuable tourist destination. But attacks have grown this year, with rebels accusing President Abdoulaye Wade's government of neglecting the people of Casamance, who produce much of the nation's grain.

Local government officials are calling for renewed talks with the MFDC movement. A communiqué last month, attributed to the head of one of the group's factions, said the rebels prefer negotiations but were provoked by the military in recent clashes. In a nation-wide address last month, the president denounced the recent violence and vowed to pursue peace efforts with the MFDC.

Some analysts have also voiced concerns that recent conflicts in the neighbouring country of Guinea-Bissau, where dozens of anti-government demonstrators were killed by government security forces, could spill over into Senegal and other states such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.