The Senegalese army says nine of its soldiers serving in a multinational peacekeeping force in The Gambia have gone “missing” and likely taken hostage by rebels from Senegal’s southern Casamance region following a clash.
The announcement on Tuesday came a day after the army said two soldiers were killed in the same battle with fighters believed to belong to the Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC).
One rebel was also killed and three captured by Senegalese forces in the fighting on Monday, an army statement said.
“The nine missing soldiers are probably held hostage by the MFDC. Operations are ongoing to find them and secure the zone,” it added.
The soldiers were monitoring timber trafficking as part of ECOMIG, a peacekeeping mission from the Economic Community of West African States regional bloc.
The MFDC was formed in 1982 to fight for independence for Casamance.
The movement has been largely dormant since a ceasefire in 2014 but has been blamed by the Senegalese government for occasional attacks since then and continues to finance itself through timber trafficking between Senegal and The Gambia, a tiny strip of territory that is bordered on three sides by Senegal.
ECOMIG, made up mainly of Senegalese soldiers, was deployed to The Gambia in January 2017 after former longtime ruler Yahya Jammeh refused to cede power after losing a presidential election.
Its mission has continued at President Adama Barrow’s request despite Jammeh’s departure into exile.