Friday 20 April 2018

Senegal forest massacre: what we know

Senegal forest massacre: what we know
(AFP (eng) 01/12/18)

The brutal murder of 14 people in a protected forest in Senegal's southern Casamance region has interrupted years of relative calm in this once restive region.

A week on, what do we know about the motivations for the killings and their repercussions?

- What happened? -

On January 6, around 20 men were collecting wood in the protected forest of Bayottes, close to the regional capital of Ziguinchor.

Around 15-20 armed men ambushed them, according to victim testimony, confiscated their mobile phones and bicycles, and told them to lie face down before opening fire.

The government said 10 were shot dead, two were stabbed to death and one was burned. Half a dozen more were wounded.

The army immediately began search-and-sweep operations but has yet to make any arrests.

On Thursday another body in an advanced state of decomposition was found, bringing the death toll to 14.

- Who were the victims? -

The men killed were looking for firewood, the ones who escaped and their families said.

But several sources told AFP they were potentially involved in the illegal logging trade in a region with plentiful rosewood and teak, which are highly prized in China.

- Who were the attackers? -

This is the question still vexing the Senegalese authorities. The army says it will not comment while the killers are still at large.

The massacre "could only have been an organised outfit", a prominent civil society member told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The finger was rapidly pointed at separatist rebel group the Casamance Movement of Democratic Forces (MFDC), but the organisation denied all involvement and instead blamed corrupt local officials.

Local military and governmental "are at the head of a vast network of illegal logging and selling of teak" and the murders were linked to a feud between sawmill operators, they alleged.

"Many secret, traditional sawmills operate in the forest," Abdoulaye Balde, deputy mayor of Ziguinchor, told AFP. Traffickers usually operate at night and haul carts filled with teak or rosewood to the city.

- What is the impact on the Casamance peace process? -

Casamance, largely separated from the rest of Senegal by The Gambia, has been the target of an independence campaign for 35 years.

Violence has left thousands of civilians and military personnel dead and forced many to flee. The economy, heavily dependent on agriculture and tourism, has been badly hurt.

However, the region has been calm in recent years after President Macky Sall came to office and revived peace talks, and analysts said the killings, despite the high toll, were unlikely to affect ongoing efforts at reconciliation.

Negotiations restarted with the guidance of Rome's Community of Sant'Egidio in October, a charity with ties to the Vatican specialising in peace mediation.

In a New Year's message, Sall had appealed to the Casamance rebels to continue talks to create a "definitive peace", and the MFDC said after the massacre it "continued to be open to dialogue".

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