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Senegal: Casamance Region Hopes for Peace Through Deal in Rome

On October 13 and 14, 2012, preliminary talks took place in Rome, Italy, between representatives of the Senegalese government and of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (Mfdc) [fr], under the auspices of the Community of Sant'EgidioCasamance is a region in the south west of Senegal, which has been the scene of violent conflict between government forces and those fighting for independence since the beginning of the 1980s.

The NGO Sant'Egidio is affectionately known as the Trastevere UN due to the numerous peace mediations and dialogues it has facilitated. This engagement in the peace process has, amongst other things, earned its founder Andrea Riccardi [it] the position of Minister for Solidarity and International Cooperation in the current Italian government.

The Casamance river at Ziguinchor (Senegal) by KaBa on Wikipedia under license Creative Commons (NC-BY-2.0).

The Casamance river at Ziguinchor (Senegal) by KaBa on Wikipedia under license Creative Commons (NC-BY-2.0).

Santegidio.org explains [fr]:

Après des consultations approfondies, une délégation du gouvernement sénégalais et une délégation du Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance (Mfdc) « se sont rencontrées en présence de la médiation de la communauté de Sant'Egidio pour permettre le retour de la paix en Casamance », indique le communiqué de la communauté religieuse, précisant que la rencontre a eu lieu les 13 et 14 octobre. « Au terme de la rencontre, les deux délégations ont (…) décidé de se revoir à Rome pour poursuivre leurs discussions », ajoute le bref communiqué.

Following intense consultation, a delegation from the Senegalese government and a delegation from the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (Mdfc) “met in the presence of mediators from the Sant'Egidio community to allow a return to peace in Casamance”, indicated a statement from the religious community, specifying that the meeting took place over October 13 and 14.  “At the close of the meeting, the two delegations [...] decided to come together again in Rome to carry on discussions”, the brief statement added.

Seneweb.com reiterated [fr] that:

La crise casamançaise est une des préoccupations de l’Etat du Sénégal. En 1982, le Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de la Casamance (Mfdc) a lancé une rébellion indépendantiste armée, dans cette région du sud du Sénégal aux fortes potentialités touristiques et agricoles. Plusieurs accords de paix ont été signés, mais pas appliqués; des combats et violences secouent toujours la région. Ce conflit de 30 ans a fait des milliers de victimes des dizaines de milliers de déplacés et réfugiés.

The crisis in Casamance is one of the principal preoccupations of the Senegal State. In 1982, the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (Mdfc) launched an armed rebellion calling for independence in the southern Senegalese region, which has strong potential for tourism and agriculture. Several peace agreements have been signed, but never implemented; fighting and violence are ongoing in the region.  The 30-year-old conflict has claimed thousands of lives and tens of thousands have also been displaced or made refugees.

As Sabine Cessou of slateafrique.com recalls [fr], former president Abdoulaye Wade committed to resolve the crisis:

Le président Abdoulaye Wade avait promis de régler le problème en cent jours, après son arrivée au pouvoir en 2000. Onze ans plus tard, la Casamance reste une région minée, dans tous les sens du terme. Les champs sont truffés de mines anti-personnel et les touristes sont partis depuis longtemps, délaissant les plages de sable fin du Cap-Skirring. La production de riz a chuté et les rares usines de Ziguinchor ont fermé, laissant aux jeunes encore moins de perspectives qu’ailleurs au Sénégal.

President Abdoulaye Wade promised to resolve the problem during the first 100 days of his arrival into office in 2000. Eleven years later, Casamance remains a minefield, in all senses of the word. The fields are littered with anti-personnel mines and the tourists have long since gone, the fine sandy beaches of Cap-Skirring left abandoned. Rice production has plummeted and Ziguinchor's few factories have closed, leaving the young with even fewer prospects than elsewhere in Senegal.
At the end of the delocalised Council of Ministers that took place on June 27 in Ziguinchor, Casamance's principal town, the new Senegalese President Michy Sall, clearly stated his intention to negotiate with the rebels, thereby responding positively to an offer made to him by Salif Sadio, leader of the main rebel movement, according to a piece published [fr] on xamle.net:

Tout comme nous avons déjà pris des contacts, nous sommes ouverts, avec les hommes de César Atoute Badiate et les hommes de Ousmane Niantang Diatta, pour démarrer des négociations sérieuses avec les combattants du mouvement indépendantiste et tous les acteurs qui œuvrent pour une paix définitive et durable en Casamance », a annoncé M. Sall.

Given that we have already made contact, we are open, along with the forces of César Atoute Badiate and the forces of Ousmane Niantang Diatta, to launch serious negotiations with the independence movement fighters and all actors who are working towards a definitive and lasting peace in Casamance”, Mr Sall announced.

Up to now, suspicion has prevailed, explains  [fr] in an article published on setal.net:

Après un blocage dû aux méthodes peu orthodoxes wadiennes, le dialogue entre le gouvernement du Sénégal et le mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC) a repris ses droits. … Ces rencontres qui ont lieu les 13 et 14 octobre derniers à ROME, devraient être répétées dans les jours à venir. Cependant, les initiateurs de dialogue entre les nouvelles autorités et l’aile politique du Mfdc suggèrent une implication de l’aile militaire pour une résolution de cette crise qui n’a fait que durer. Un appel au pied à Salif Sadio et Cie qui, depuis quelques temps semblent dans de bonnes dispositions pour renouer le dialogue avec l’Etat du Sénégal.

After a blockage that resulted from Wade's unorthodox methods, dialogue between the Senegalese government and the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (Mdfc) seems to be back on track… The meetings that took place over October 13 and 14 in Rome, should be repeated over the coming days. However, the initiators of the dialogue between the new authorities and the Mfdc's political wing have suggested the involvement of the military wing in a lasting resolution to the crisis. This is an appeal to Salif Sadio and Co. who, for a long time now have looked willing to renew talks with the Senegalese State.

In her article, mentioned above, Sabine Cessou detailed the difficulties that have, up to now, hindered the process of bringing peace [fr] to the region:

Pour tout compliquer, la rébellion n’a fait que se diviser en une multitude de nouvelles branches, depuis la mort, en janvier 2007, de son chef historique, l’abbé Diamacoune Senghor, emporté à 78 ans par la maladie. Une première dissidence, encouragée par le gouvernement d’Abdou Diouf, avait déjà fait son apparition dès 1991, au moment de la signature des premiers accords de paix, avec une branche menée par Sidy Badji —mort à 83 ans en 2003.

Aucun accord de paix n’a été signé depuis 2004, malgré la reprise des violences en 2009. Dakar, après avoir semé la division, s’estime bien en peine d’identifier des interlocuteurs pour négocier la paix.

To make matters more complicated, the rebellion has splintered into a multitude of different factions, since the demise in January 2007 of the previous leader Father Diamacoune Senghor [fr], who died, at the age of 78 following, an illness. An initial rebellion, encouraged by the government of Abdou Diouf, was already starting to show in 1991, when the first peace agreements were being signed. This faction was lead by Sidy Badji, who died in 2003 aged 83. No peace accords have been signed since 2004, despite a return to violence in 2009. After having encouraged this factionalisation, Dakar now seems at a loss as to who they should be negotiating for peace with.

While the negotiations were taking place in Rome, those members of the movement not interested in engaging with the peace process resumed military action. In fact, in a piece that appeared on wmaker.net, POP Idrissa B. SANE reported [fr]:

Des individus fortement armés ont fait irruption dans la nuit du jeudi à vendredi vers 23h dans la localité de Diouloulou avant d’installer la panique et la psychose dans la ville. Ils ont eu des accrochages de 23h à 2h du matin, avec les soldats basés dans cette partie du département de Bignona. Il n'y a pas eu de pertes en vie humaine. Il faut souligner qu’auparavant, la caisse du crédit mutuel de Diouloulou a été attaquée avant que les assaillants n’emportent une importe somme d’argent estimée exactement à 30.683.000F Cfa.

Des boutiques ont été aussi visitées par ces mêmes individus armés qui ont dévalisé tous ces commerces. Des téléphones portables et autres, biens et de l’argent ont été aussi emportés…

At around 11pm on the night of Thursday into Friday, heavily armed individuals stormed Diouloulou before provoking panic and psychosis in the town. Fighting with soldiers based in this part of the Bignona region took place between 11pm and 2am. There was no loss of human life. It is important to note that, prior to this, the coffers of the Diouloulou mutual bank were raided, the assailants making off with a large amount of money, estimated to be exactly 30,683,000 CFA francs. Shops were also visited by these same armed individuals who looted every businesses. Mobile phones and other goods and money were taken…
Those taking part in the negotiations in Rome delibertately did not draw too much attention to them prior to their initiation, in order to limit the risk of this type of rebel attacks. That is, in any case, what casamance-nieuws.blogspot.fr has indicated [fr], quoting church sources:
À Ziguinchor, capitale de la Casamance, des sources de l’Église catholique soulignent que la réunion romaine « n’a pas été officiellement annoncée par le gouvernement, très discret sur la question ». « Ces dernières semaines les informations sur l’ouverture d’un processus de paix n’ont pas été diffusées », précise l’agence missionnaire Misna qui rappelle que le MFDC est divisé en plusieurs factions et qui ne partagent pas toutes l’ouverture de Salif Sadio, son principal chef militaire.
In Ziguinchor, the Casamance capital, sources inside the Catholic church have highlighted that the meeting in Rome “was not officially anounced by the government, it was very discrete on the matter”. “The past few weeks, information on the opening of a peace process has not been broadcast” specifes the Misna missionary agency, which also points out that the Mfdc is divided into several factions that don't all share the openness of Salif Sadio, their main military leader.

However, Senegalese people want to give peace a chance. In an article for the website lesenegalais.net, YOUSSOUF B H SANE made it known [fr] that the third peace delegation will visit several different locations in the region between October 14 and 21. This has come about through the initiative of Senegalese wrestling champion Balla Gaye 2 who met with President Macky Sall before the delegation's departure:

Pour sa troisième édition, la caravane de la paix en Casamance initiée par Balla Gaye 2 va se tenir à partir du 14 Octobre 2012 prochain, avec comme thème principal, la paix et le développement en Casamance. Des rencontres avec les autorités administratives, religieuses et coutumières, sont prévues ainsi que des dons de sang et de dépistage volontaire du VIH /SIDA. La journée de clôture de la caravane est programmée pour le 21 Octobre avec le diner de gala “Sargal roi des arènes”.

For its third round of talks, the Casamance peace delegation initiated by Balla Gaye 2 will begin meeting from October 14. Their main focus will be peace and development in Casamance. Meetings with administrative, religious and traditional authorities are expected to take place, as are blood donations and voluntary HIV/AIDS testing. The delegation is due to end its mission on October 21 with a “Sargal King of the Arena” gala dinner.

It is in the hope for longlasting peace that the outcome of these negotiations is anticipated in West Africa, because it is only through peace that the struggle for development can be won.

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