Several soldiers killed in Senegal
Ziguinchor - Several soldiers were killed on Tuesday in an attack in the restive Casamance region of southern Senegal blamed on separatist rebels, military and political sources said.
"We have lost some soldiers and some have been reported missing," a military source said after a local official reported an attack in the village of Kabeumeu near the border with Gambia.
An elected local official confirmed to AFP by phone that several soldiers had been killed and said that others had been taken hostage by suspected members of the rebel Casamance Movement of Democratic Forces (MFDC).
Neither source was immediately able to give an exact number of casualties.
According to the military source, a search was under way to locate the missing soldiers.
"The soldiers were taken by surprise" by the attack which took place at around 06:00, said the local official.
"They tried to defend themselves and there were intense exchanges of fire with heavy weapons as well as small arms fire," he said. "We ourselves had to leave the house to find refuge in the bush."
MFDC separatists have been fighting for independence from Senegal since 1982.
The region has seen periods of calm interspersed with heightened tensions. At least 10 people were killed on November 21 near the regional capital Ziguinchor in a suspected MFDC attack.
The victims were all civilians.
There is no immediate end in sight for the conflict, despite several peace accords between Dakar and the region. Over almost three decades, the unrest has claimed thousands of lives.
Since the MFDC began its rebellion in 1982, Casamance has been the theatre of attacks, hold-ups and clashes between the military and the movement, which has disintegrated into several factions.
Rivalry has worsened since the death in December 2007 of the historic chief of the MFDC, Father Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, who was key to peace talks with the Dakar government of President Adoulaye Wade.
The last direct talks between the rebels and the government date back to 2005.