afrol.com / IRIN, 15 February - The Mouvement des forces democratiques de Casamance (MFDC), a group fighting for independence for southern Senegal, says it is now ready to hold its national congress with an eye to peace talks, following the dismissal of several top officials. At the same time, there are reports of renewed fighting in the Casamance and in Guinea-Bissau.
Four top officials, including spokesman Alexandre Djiba and military adviser Sidy Badji, were stripped of their functions on Saturday by the MFDC leader, Father Augustin Diamacoune. The reasons given were "incompetence and insubordination", Djiba told IRIN.
He said the four new appointees, who are all based overseas, did not know the situation in Casamance. Although Diamacoune does not have the authority to remove officials, those dismissed have abided by the decision so not to create division, Djiba said.
Diamacoune's decision is to be submitted to the organisation's supreme authority, the MFDC congress. Originally scheduled for 3-7 January, it was postponed by Diamacoune to an unspecified date. The congress will decide on the position the MFDC will adopt during upcoming peace talks with Senegal's government.
The dismissal of the officials and the undermining of the authority of the congress could lead to a "deterioration of the situation, and ultimately war", Djiba said. He added that the media had failed to report clashes that have occurred in Casamance since 31 January, causing many deaths.
These clashes include MFDC attacks, especially on commercial vehicles plying the province. According to reliable sources from Ziguinchor, armed men recently emerged from their hide out on the Ziguinchor - Cap Skirin road and intercepted vehicles, robbing passengers of their money, luggage and travel documents. This was reported in The Independent, the leading newspaper of The Gambia, bordering the Casamance.
Speaking to a reporter from The Independent, a Senegalese army captain said government soldiers were now "fed up with the fighting since the Casamance conflict is confusing the entire army in the region." He added that even though the Senegalese government, together with its neighbours are making laudable efforts in bringing back peace to the region, "it all depends on the citizens of Casamance to make it happen".
The MFDC has been fighting for the independence of Casamance since 1982. The last two years, it has been involved in peace talks with the Senegalese government. Thus, the Casamance has been relatively calm until new conflict lines were drawn in November 2000.
The MFDC has had an ally in the earlier rulers of neighbouring Guinea-Bissau, until President Kumba Yalah managed to oust the military strongmen from power in November. MFDC fighters fought alongside with late Bissauan General Ansumana Mane in his rebellion against the democratically elected president. When the general was killed and his supporters defeated, the MFDC lost its last support from Guinea-Bissau.
The incident provoked a split within the movement between groups in line with and opposed to the peace negotiations with the Senegalese government. Fighting was carried out in Guinea-Bissau, where the MFDC still controls some bases. So far, the part agreeing to peace talks seems to have the upper hand.
Meanwhile, the MFDC is losing more ground in Guinea-Bissau, where a government offensive in the border area of Santo Domingo is determined to oust the Senegalese guerrilla from Bissauan territory. The army in Guinea-Bissau has confirmed that it is gaining ground in its offensive against the Casamance rebels.