Page last updated at 01:10 GMT, Friday, 9 May 2008 02:10 UK

Senegalese bandits chop off ears


Armed men have cut off the left ears of 16 villagers harvesting cashew nuts in Senegal's rebel-hit Casamance region.

"They tied our hands before cutting off one ear each," Lansana Manga, 31, told the AFP news agency.

This is the first case of such deliberate mutilation during the region's 26 years of conflict.

A spokesman for the rebel Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), said it was not involved in the attack, describing it as barbarous.

"Our interest is to maintain calm until we can sit down with the government of Senegal and bring definitive peace to Casamance. We do not want civilians to be targeted," said the MFDC's Antoine Diamacoune.

Harvest attack

Mr Manga said they were harvesting the nuts in Niaguis, 20km from the regional capital, Ziguinchor, when they were approached by men dressed in military fatigues and armed with rifles.

"We told them they did not have to do that but they said it was to punish us because we were in their territory," he said.

The cashew-nut harvest time has regularly seen as upsurge in violence and armed attacks. Cashew nuts are one of the area's main cash crops.

The Gambia lies between Casamance and the rest of Senegal and the MFDC rebels started a war for independence in 1982.

A peace deal was signed with the main MFDC faction in 2004 but the armed robbery remains common in the area, badly hitting its once vibrant tourist industry.

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