- Guinea-Bissau's army guaranteed yesterday that it had the situation along its border with the Senegalese province of Casamance "under control." A faction of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), which wants independence from Senegal, has been fighting in the area since last week. Around 5,000 people have been displaced by the fighting.
The declared objective of Guinea-Bissau's troops, who are stationed in the town of Săo Domingos in northern Guinean-Bissau, on the border with Senegal, is to neutralise the faction of the MFDC's southern front led by Salif Sadio, who refused to sign the December 2004 peace accords with the Senegalese government in Dakar. The factions of the Southern Front, which at the time were united, supported the Bissau military junta of Ansumane Mané in the 1998 war in Guinea-Bissau that led to the overthrow of then (and current) President Joăo Bernardo "Nino" Vieira, although Mr Vieira enjoyed the support of Senegalese troops in Bissau.
The current military operation on the part of the Guinea-Bissau army will only end when the MFDC troops, who are fighting for the independence of Casamance from Senegal, abandon their bases in Guinea-Bissau's territory, according to the spokesman of the Bissau-Guinean army, Lieutenant Colonel Arsénio Baldé, who was cited by Portuguese news agency Lusa.
In a press conference in the capital Bissau, Mr Baldé denied information according to which the heads of the Bissau-Guinean army had received money from the Senegalese government to annihilate the rebellion, and threatened to sue all those he accused of "speculating" regarding the reasons for the operation.
The military spokesman admitted deaths had occurred among the Bissau-Guinean troops, but did not specify figures. Guinean internal refugees within Guinea-Bissau or who fled into Casamance are in the thousands - a source close to the International Red Cross Committee ventures a figure of 2,500, while other sources speak of 5,000 displaced.
Towns and villages of the southern Casamance region are left totally deserted following the infighting in the MFDC movement, which is split over whether to accept a negotiated peace with Dakar. The Senegalese Red Cross and Crescent has reported of at least 2,500 internally displaced reaching Ziguinchor, the capital of the Casamance region. Also Bissau-Guinean authorities have confirmed the arrival of at least 1,600 newly displaced from Casamance in the north of the country.
As a Senegalese military official had previously done, Mr Baldé denied that Bissau-Guinean troops had ventured into Senegal. When elected in 2000, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade promised to bring a definitive resolution to the Casamance problem. On Friday, President Wade solicited the mediation of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh in order to help find a solution to the conflict, which has lasted for 23 years.
The Casamance conflict during most of this time has been a low-profile war between the MFDC and Senegalese troops, where most casualties have resulted from mines. Waves of internally displaced and refugees have occasionally streamed into Ziguinchor, The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, but the displaced mostly have returned after a few weeks or months, when fighting died out. This is the first serious fighting in Casamance for many years.
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