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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 December, 2004, 18:22 GMT
Crowds cheer Senegal peace deal
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade (L) meets Casamance separatist leader Father Diamacoune Senghor
President Wade has made peace a priority of his presidency
Senegal's government has signed a peace deal with separatist rebels in Casamance, ending one of West Africa's longest-running wars.

Thousands of people cheered as the interior minister and rebel leader put their names to a cease-fire pact.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who made peace a priority when he came to power in 2000, is expected to join the ceremony in Ziguinchor.

The signing took place in spite of concerns about rebel factional splits.

Building block

Some 3,000 spectators - many of whom wore pro-peace T-shirts - welcomed the signing by chanting and dancing.

Details of the agreement signed by rebel leader Father Diamacoune Senghor and Interior Minister Ousman Ngom have yet to be made public but the pact is believed to include details on disarmament and the reintegration of rebel fighters.

According to the BBC's West Africa correspondent, Andrew Simmons, the treaty is likely to be more of a building block than an immediate solution to the separatist sentiment.

At least three factions of the Casamance movement are known to oppose the move.

They believe the process is back to front - a peace deal being signed before full agreement on the political and economic future of the region, our correspondent says.

Tourist potential

Casamance is the south-western corner of Senegal yet it is physically separated by a legacy of colonial history - the former British colony of The Gambia.

Senegalese soldiers
The Senegalese army was accused of being heavy-handed
The 22-year-old rebellion was fuelled by complaints among Casamance's population that they were being marginalised by the more numerous Wollof people of northern Senegal.

The Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance launched a campaign of violence in 1982, killing some 3,500 people.

Its fighters are spread across the borders of The Gambia to the north and Guinea-Bissau in the south.

Casamance's white beaches were once a tropical haven for European tourists and its fertile land an important part of Senegal's agricultural output.

A lasting peace would see major international aid packages to rebuild villages, de-mine the countryside and revive tourism, agriculture and the fishing industry, our correspondent says.

Country profile: Senegal
09 Nov 04 |  Country profiles

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