The Senegalese army said Tuesday it took three rebel “bases” in the restive southern region Casamance and recovered weapons during an offensive launched in late January after months of a lull in the long-standing conflict.
Officers of the Senegalese army took the press for a rare visit to two of these cantonments, shelters of tin and wood scattered under tall trees in the forest of Blaze and sheltering some kind of buried bunkers that can shelter a few people.
The surroundings of these “bases” were punctuated with burnt surfaces, traces of the fighting according to Senegalese officers.
The “bases”, relatively intact, belonged to the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), which has been leading an armed independence rebellion since 1982, said Colonel Souleymane Kandé, the local head of the Senegalese army.
They were captured after artillery fire, preceding the assault by ground forces supported by planes and helicopters, said an anonymous officer who said he participated in the fighting.
The Senegalese army provided no indication of losses on either side, and no assessment of the human toll is otherwise available from a reliable and independent source.
The rebels were driven out in particular from their base in Badjom, “the center of gravity and strength of the MFDC” about twenty kilometers from Ziguinchor, the main city of Casamance, said Colonel Kandé.
“There was a great cooperation (of) the Guinea-Bissau Defense and Security Forces (FDS), operational and military cooperation,” said Colonel Kandé.
Guinea-Bissau has long been accused of serving as a rear base for the rebels, even providing them with weapons. An ally of Senegalese President Macky Sall, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, became president of Guinea-Bissau in 2020.
Senegalese forces said they seized mortars, rocket launchers, rifles and motorcycles, which they showed to the press. They also said they took control of several hectares of cannabis fields. “These are industrial farms of Indian hemp that fed the criminal economy of the armed gangs,” said Colonel Kandé.
The officers admitted that the rebels had other “bases” in the area.
Casamance, a region separated from northern Senegal by the Gambia, had seen renewed violence in early 2018 with the massacre of 14 men near Ziguinchor. The army arrested about 20 suspects, who are still awaiting trial.
Peace talks, made difficult by internal divisions within the MFDC, were revived after President Macky Sall came to power in 2012. But they did not result in a final agreement to end a conflict that claimed thousands of civilian and military casualties, devastated the economy, and forced many to flee.