Senegal signs peace deal with rebels

Senegal's government has signed a peace deal with rebels in the lush southern province of Casamance.

    President Wade has made peace in Casamance province a priority

    The peace deal is expected to end a conflict that has been simmering in the former tourism hotspot for over two decades.

    "All the conditions are present today to have a definitive accord," Interior Minister Osman Ngom, who signed the deal for the government, said in the province's capital Ziguinchor on Thursday.

    "It has been meticulously prepared by both sides."

    Under the accord, the rebels have declared their armed

    struggle over and agreed to lay down their weapons, although

    there is no time-frame for disarmament.

    Father Diamacoune Senghor, a 76-year-old Catholic priest who

    is the historic leader of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), signed the deal for the rebels,

    whose movement has been undermined by internal divisions.

    One small rebel faction refused to take part in the signing

    ceremony, which was also attended by opposition

    and religious leaders as well as thousands of ordinary Casamance


    Gun battles

    Ngom played down the significance of the no-show.


    "All the conditions are present today to have a definitive accord"

    Osman Ngom,
    Senegal Interior Minister

    "What is important is that the government's partners in the

    accord are credible and determined," he said.

    The MFDC

    has fought a low-level insurgency for greater autonomy in the

    largely Christian and animist region since 1982.

    Hundreds have

    been killed.

    While the worst violence in Casamance, one of Africa's

    longest conflicts, ended in the 1990s, sporadic gun battles have

    continued in the region, which is still littered with landmines.

    Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade, who was elected in 2000,

    has made peace in Casamance - cut off from the rest of the

    country by tiny Gambia - one of his top priorities.

    Earlier this year, he said the end of the conflict was close

    and announced an amnesty for the rebels.

    Senegal, which stands out as a haven of stability among its

    turbulent West African neighbours, wants to return Casamance to

    its past fortunes as the country's bread basket and attract

    tourists back to its white beaches and lush mangrove swamps.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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