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 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 11:05 GMT
Dozens killed in Senegal fighting
Thirty rebels and four government soldiers have been killed in recent fighting in the troubled southern province of Casamance, an army source says.

Heavy fighting was reported overnight near the main city of Ziguinchor and the resort of Cap Skirring, which is popular with French tourists.

Senegalese rebel
Some rebels have not signed the peace deal
The BBC's Alpha Jallow in Ziguinchor says that traumatised holiday makers are now considering leaving.

For the past 21 years, a separatist movement has waged a violent campaign to create a separate state in southern Senegal.

The fighting, which comes after a six month truce, started when the army launched an operation against the rebels after a soldier was killed by a landmine on Sunday.

Bases destroyed

The Senegalese army says that in addition to the casualties, 24 soldiers have been seriously injured in the latest fighting.

It says it is continuing its operation against the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) in the Nyassia area, 20km south-west of Ziguinchor.

The offensive comes "in response to secessionist rebels' recent campaigns of placing mines in the area", Colonel Mokhtar Gueye said in a statement.

Working in a rice field in Casamance
Casamance is Senegal's most fertile region

"With the rebels intent on causing damage, the military command had to take steps to guarantee the security of soldiers and to protect civilians," Colonel Gueye said.

He said the army had destroyed several rebel bases since the beginning of the week.

Our correspondent says that tourists in the resort of Cap Skirring are thinking of packing their bags and that local villagers are trying to get to Ziguinchor.

He says that people in the provincial capital blame the resurgence of fighting on the army.

Peace process

The renewed hostilies coincide with a meeting between the local authorities and religious leaders.

The high command of the MFDC has been trying to involve them in the stalled peace process.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade
President Wade has pledged to bring peace to Casamance

Two years ago the MFDC leadership signed a provisional peace accord with the government and appeared to have strongly modified its separatist position.

But there has been little follow-up to that agreement.

The movement is bitterly divided and its weak leadership has little control over some groups who have continued to ambush passenger vehicles and kidnap civilians.

President Abdoulaye Wade said in a New Year address last week that he was about to reach a definitive peace agreement with the rebels.

When he was elected three years ago, he promised to put an end to conflitct which has claimed hundreds of lives.

  BBC Network Africa's Alpha Jallow
"There are heavy casualties on both sides"
See also:

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