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Friday, 10 August, 2001, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Senegalese rebels elect new leader
The southern Senegalese Casamance separatist movement says it has replaced its long-time leader after four days of talks in neighbouring Gambia.

Opposition to Father Augustine Diamacoune's leadership reportedly came from younger radicals who on Thursday elected a leader from within their ranks.

The Casamance Movement of Democratic Forces' new secretary-general is Jean-Marie Francois Biagui who, up until now, has been based in France.

The MFDC signed a peace agreement with the government of Senegal in March, but hardline elements have rejected the compromise with the government, continuing to carry out armed attacks and ambushes and provoking strong counter-insurgency measures from the government army.

Pursue agreements

The first task of the new leader will be to try to unify his movement, split between the rebel hardliners who are committed to the separation of the Casamance from Senegal and those who want that commitment dropped.

Senegalese rebel
Hardline rebels have not signed up to peace deal
Mr Biagui says he will pursue agreements with the Senegalese Government made by his predecessor despite violent opposition from MFDC hardliners.

Father Diamacoune, a 71-year Roman Catholic priest, had led the MFDC since the start of its campaign for special status for Casamance in 1982.

He now becomes the organisation's honorary president.

He was accused by his opponents at the talks of acting unilaterally by sacking some members of the executive this week.

More peace talks

The Banjul meeting was said to have been called to heal internal divisions within the movement ahead of more peace talks with the Senegalese Government.

But correspondents say continuing factional differences put a stop to the creation of a united front despite last-minute mediation by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh.

The conflict has disrupted the economy of this very fertile region of Senegal and has resulted in the sometimes tense relations with its neighbours in both Guinea-Bissau and Gambia.

See also:

13 Mar 01 | Africa
Ambush in Casamance
25 Dec 00 | Africa
Six die in Casamance violence
17 Dec 00 | Africa
Senegal peace talks end abruptly
02 Apr 00 | Africa
New era for Senegal
23 May 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Senegal
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