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Since Sunday March 13, dozens of Senegalese families have been fleeing their villages in northern Casamance, a region in southern Senegal, to cross the border and take refuge in neighboring Gambia. All fled a Senegalese army operation launched to “dismantle the bases of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) faction of Salif Sadio” and “preserve the integrity of the national territory”, According to the press release from the Ministry of Defense. Casamance is the scene of one of the oldest conflicts on the continent: for forty years, armed separatist rebels who have gone underground have been facing the Senegalese state.
The Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, invested in mediating between the two parties for years, quickly called for “stop the clashes to resume the negotiation process” and “at the end of the ongoing military operations conducted by the Senegalese army so that it is possible to safeguard the stability of the area concerned and to keep the path of dialogue open”. “There is not a day without a fightnotes however Angelo Romano, member of the office of international relations of Sant’Egidio. These operations blocked the negotiation, there is only the way of the weapons since last Monday. »
The area had not seen such a violent armed confrontation since 2012, when Salif Sadio, one of the historic rebel leaders, declared a unilateral ceasefire. In a statement, the Gambian government spokesperson expressed concern that “several communities and villages (…) heard the sound of heavy gunfire while there were reports of shells landing in Gambian border villages”.
In one week, the Gambian National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) has identified 6,350 people fleeing the violence, including 4,508 displaced persons, the rest being Senegalese families who have crossed the border. This figure is likely to increase because the agency had to stop recordings in the face of “the intensity of the fighting which made security too volatile”, says Binta Sey Jadama, NDMA West Coast Regional Coordinator. The refugees are currently being received in Gambian villages, with the help of the Red Cross, in sometimes difficult conditions. “They are welcomed in rural areas that are already poor”describes Mme Jamama.
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