Senegal announced on Sunday night that it had launched an operation against rebels in Casamance, the scene of an old conflict in the south of the country.
This offensive is launched less than two months after the death of four Senegalese soldiers and the capture of seven others by the rebels in the border area with Gambia. The seven soldiers, members of the West African military mission in the Gambia (Ecomig), have since been released.
“As part of their regalian missions of securing people and property, the armies launched an operation on Sunday, March 13, 2022, whose main objective is to dismantle the bases of the MFDC (Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance) faction of Salif Sadio located along the northern border” with Gambia, the Senegalese general staff said in a statement.
“This operation also aims to destroy all armed gangs conducting criminal activities in the area,” it said.
“The armies remain determined (…) to preserve the integrity of the national territory at all costs,” it concluded.
Casamance has been the scene of one of the continent’s oldest conflicts since independence fighters took to the streets with rudimentary weaponry after the repression of an MFDC march in December 1982. The rebellion has thrived on the peculiarities of this fertile region, which is largely isolated from Senegal by the Gambia and prone to feelings of neglect.
After claiming thousands of lives and ravaging the economy, the conflict has persisted at a slow pace, with flashpoints like the massacre of 14 men near Ziguinchor in 2018. The trial of these events is scheduled to begin in a few days.
In recent years, Senegalese authorities have undertaken to resettle the displaced. In January 2021, the army launched an operation against MFDC bases to allow for these returns and to put an end to the flourishing trade in wood and cannabis, in which it accuses the rebels of participating.