Senegal in crackdown on timber trafficking after massacre

Dakar - Senegal has said it will step up efforts to stop the trafficking of prized timber in its southern Casamance region, following the massacre of 13 men in an incident believed linked to the trade.

The army is leading a search for the perpetrators of the January 6 attack in the forest of Borofaye, close to the regional capital of Ziguinchor. Most of the victims were shot, and one was burned to death.

Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall said the authorities would "evaluate the policy for criminality linked to wood trafficking in the region" in remarks released late on Tuesday, after the illicit sale of teak emerged as a possible motive for the killings.

Loggers have long benefited from lax oversight of Senegal's southern Casamance forest, often taking timber over the border to The Gambia before exporting it to China.

France meanwhile posted a warning for travellers in the region, which alerted its nationals that a military operation "is being prepared and could last several days."

"We therefore advise against travel to the area south of Ziguinchor," a statement posted on the foreign ministry website added.

Former colonial power France, whose tourists visit other areas of Senegal in droves, removed Casamance from its list of danger zones in October 2016.

A separatist movement in Casamance left thousands of civilians and military personnel dead and forced many to flee over three decades, as well as hurting the economy dependent on agriculture and tourism.

But the separatist rebels of the Movement for Democratic Forces in Casamance (MFDC) condemned the massacre and blamed local officials at the head of a "huge illegal network for teak logging and resale".

The attack came a day after the army released two MFDC fighters following negotiations spearheaded by Rome's Community of Sant'Egidio, a charity with ties to the Vatican specialising in peace mediation.

In a New Year's message, President Macky Sall had appealed to the Casamance rebels to continue talks to create a "definite peace".

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