By John Ikani
Senegal signed a peace deal on Thursday with rebels from the country’s southern province of Casamance who pledged to lay down their arms and work towards a permanent peace in the home of one of Africa’s oldest active rebellions.
Casamance, Senegal’s southernmost region, is almost separated from the rest of the country by the tiny state of The Gambia. It has a distinct culture and language derived from its past as a former Portuguese colony.
Rebel leader Cesar Atoute Badiate, head of a unit of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), and an emissary of Senegalese President Macky Sall signed the peace deal in Guinea-Bissau.
Back home in Senegal, more than 10,000 people, many of them waving Senegalese flags, gathered in a public square in the main Casamance city of Ziguinchor Thursday to witness the televised signing of the peace agreement.
Some of the several dozen former rebels attending had not been to Ziguinchor since the start of their insurgency in 1982.
The Senegalese President, Macky Sall, welcomed the agreement and thanked the President of Guinea-Bissau, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, for mediating.
He shared pictures of the signing event on Twitter:
Je salue l’Accord de paix et de dépôt des armes signé ce 4 août à Bissau entre le Sénégal et le Comité Provisoire des Ailes politiques et combattantes du MFDC. Je reste engagé pour la consolidation de la paix durable en Casamance. Je remercie le Prsdt @USEmbalo pour sa médiation. pic.twitter.com/s9AVJ2MJDr
— Macky Sall (@Macky_Sall) August 4, 2022
A separatist insurgency by the MFDC has resulted in several thousand deaths since 1982, although the conflict was mostly dormant until Senegal launched a major offensive last year to drive out the rebels.
In a clash on January 24, four Senegalese soldiers were killed and seven were captured alive and taken across the border to The Gambia. The rebels released the hostages the following month.
In March, the army launched a new operation in which it claimed to have destroyed several rebel bases for the loss of one soldier and eight wounded.