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Monday, November 10, 1997 Published at 09:59 GMT

Despatches: Africa
Liz Blunt
From Abidjan

An independent paper in Senegal, Sud Quotidien, has published details of what it says were a series of discrete meetings in September and October between members of Senegal's Catholic Bishops' conference and the leader of the Casamance separatist movement, the Abbe Diamacoune Senghor. During the course of these contacts says the paper the Abbe Diamacoune proposed a reopening of negotiations with the government at Christmas. Our West Africa correspondent, Elizabeth Blunt reports:

"As the level of violence has mounted over the past few months in Senegal's southern province of Casamance, restrictions on the leader of the separatist movement have increased. The Abbe Diamacoune Senghor an elderly Catholic priest is under house arrest in the provincal capital Ziguinchor. By September even people who normally had permission to visit were finding it impossible to see him. But now an independent Senegalese newspaper, Sud Quotidien, which is normally well informed about events in Casamance says that throughout this period the Bishop of Saint Louise, Monsignor Pierre Sagna, himself originally from Casamance had a series of five meetings with the separatist leader. In an attempt to persuade him to negotiate with the government to get a lasting peace. In this Bishop Sagna seems to have had some success. The paper quotes a letter from the Abbe Diamacoune to the Bishops in which he deplores violence and suggests Christmas as a suitable date to restart the negotiations. Sud Quotidien also quotes at length from the Bishops' reply, in which they suggest a meeting under the auspices of the Catholic Church between the Abbe Diamacoune and his followers to try to make sure that all wings of the separatist movement would speak with one voice in any negotiations with the government. They also urge him to moderate his demands, to negotiate on the basis of greater autonomy and more development for Casamance rather than insisting on full independence. The Senegalese government has made no comment so far but since the Abbe Diamacoune is under constant guard it's clear that the Bishop's initiative must of had some official blessing."

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