News24

Senegal's restive south agrees to talks

2012-07-16 18:17

Ziguinchor - A rebel chief in Senegal's troubled Casamance told AFP he is willing to enter peace talks with Dakar, but that negotiations must first be held within the fractured separatist movement.

Cesar Atoute Badiate is the second rebel chief to indicate his willingness to end a 30-year independence struggle which has isolated the Casamance region, separated from the rest of Senegal by Gambia.

"I, Cesar, I favour peace in Casamance more than anyone," Badiate, the leader of a faction of the Casamance Movement of Democratic Forces (MFDC), told AFP in an interview.

He said he had reached out to the previous government of Abdoulaye Wade which had "trampled over the case".

"A new president, Macky Sall, is in place. He must respect his electoral promises" to work towards a return to peace in Casamance, where the MFDC has fought for independence since 1982.

Since his election in March, Sall has reached out to the MFDC, which is split into several factions, a fact which has hampered earlier peace efforts.

Badiate said that before holding talks with government he wants inter-MFDC negotiations to elect a new secretary general "in a neutral country in Europe".

"We can't go to the negotiating table divided," he said.

He said the mediation could be done by the Catholic community of Sant'Egidio.

Founded in Rome in 1968, Sant'Egidio became involved in sponsoring peace negotiations in the 1980s when it found that its humanitarian action in Mozambique would be largely useless without peace.

Badiate's demands are in line with those of the MFDC's most radical chief Salif Sadio, who said early in July that he would negotiate with Dakar "outside of Africa" under the mediation of Sant'Egidio.

He said if the government agreed to negotiations he would free five Senegalese soldiers and one policeman taken hostage in December 2011.

Several peace accords have failed to end the conflict, which has seen periods of quiet and surges of violence, claiming thousands of civilian and military lives and displacing tens of thousands of people.