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The BBC's Alpha Jallow in Ziguinchor
"There was an angry crowd shouting 'We need peace' "
 real 28k

Sunday, 17 December, 2000, 10:49 GMT
Senegal peace talks end abruptly

Peace talks between the Senegalese Government and the Casamance separatist group, the MFDC, have ended with confusion about when they will resume.

In the coming days we will fix a date for the next meeting

Mamadou Niang
Interior Minister

They were scheduled to take place over the next few days but ended after three hours.

A BBC correspondent at the meeting says he was told they would reconvene as soon as possible.

The face-to-face talks took place in the capital of the disputed southern province, Ziguinchor.

Delegations from neighbouring Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, which have been used as a base by the MFDC, also attended.

Pressure for peace

Outside the venue, a gathering of women and schoolchildren dressed symbolically in white staged a demonstration demanding peace in Casamance.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade
Wade pledged to bring peace to Casamance
The discussions began with a formal ceremony and prayers at the headquarters of the Catholic Church in the city.

Interior Minister Mamadou Niang read a statement by President Abdoulaye Wade, describing the occasion as an "historic day" and welcoming the "serene atmosphere" surrounding the talks.

Officials and rebel leaders reaffirmed their commitment to peace in the province.

And observers said the two parties had at least shown goodwill towards each other, had sat at the same table during the ceremony and were actively seeking peace.

However our correspondent says the peace demonstrators erupted in anger when the meeting broke up after just three hours without any announcement.

The interior minister merely said: "In the coming days we will fix a date for the next meeting."

The MFDC took up arms in 1982 demanding independence for the tourism- and agriculture-dependent province, which it says has been neglected by the central government.

Since then hundreds of people have been killed and thousands displaced by the conflict.

New leaders, new chance

President Wade, who came to office in March this year, has pledged to make a solution to the Casamance conflict a priority after years of stalemate under former President Diouf.

A new, democratically-elected government also took over earlier this year in Guinea-Bissau, which has in the past been accused of backing the Casamance rebels.

Meanwhile the management of Le Populaire newspaper says that two of its journalists, arrested on Thursday for reporting events in Casamance, have been freed after questioning.

President Wade has issued warnings to journalists not to interfere with the peace process.

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02 Apr 00 | Africa
New era for Senegal
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