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Monday, 25 December, 2000, 17:04 GMT
Six die in Casamance violence

A landmine has killed five villagers in Senegal's south-western province of Casamance, military sources say.

It was the first major incident since the government and separatist rebels began peace talks on 16 December. In a separate incident, a soldier died of his wounds after an exchange of fire with gunmen robbing cars on a road near the regional capital, Ziguinchor, the sources added.

But the leader of the Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), which has been fighting the Dakar government for 18 years, said that his men were not involved in either of the incidents, which took place on Sunday.

"It's the work of highway bandits. It was nothing to do with us and that's all I can say," Abbe Augustin Diamacoune Senghor told the Reuters news agency on Monday.

Cart hits landmine

Abbe Daimacoune also told reporters late on Sunday that he hoped "with all my heart that this year will be the year of peace in Casamance in truth and justice".

The five civilians were killed when their cart went over a landmine near Mame Palago, about 50 km (30 miles) from Ziguinchor.

The French news agency, Agence France Presse, said sources in the security services blamed the MFDC for the attack.

They said the mine was planted by rebels to cover their withdrawal after an attack on Mame Palago.

The soldier who died was shot on the road to Mpack, seven km (five miles) from Ziguinchor.

Counter-attack

AFP also reported that two soldiers were injured in a rebel attack on a Senegalese army base in the village of Agnak, 25km east of Ziguinchor.

The agency said the army then counter-attacked, forcing the rebels back towards the Guinea-Bissau border.

Casamance has a rich farming and tourist potential.

Hundreds of people have died in violence since 1982.

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See also:

17 Dec 00 | Africa
Senegal peace talks end abruptly
02 Apr 00 | Africa
New era for Senegal
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