|Untying the hostages/prisoners (photo credit: Saikou Jammeh)|
The separatist rebels of Southern Senegalese region of Casamance on Sunday, December 9, 2012 unconditionally released eight Senegalese hostages (seven soldiers and a firefighter) some of whom were taken hostage for over a year.
The move came two months after a Rome-based international organisation, the Catholic Church's Sant'Egidio community, hosted the rebels and the government of Senegal for talks in Rome.
The Movement for the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) has engaged mainland Senegal in an armed conflict over independence for 30 years now, though the conflict is most of the time of low-intensity.
However, its leader Salifu Sadio on Sunday made an emphatic assertion that he was forced by no one to release the solders, claiming his gesture was humanitarian. Sadio, dressed in an Arab-style white dress, a white cap and white leather shoes greeted the delegates from The Gambia Government and International Red Cross who went to receive the hostages with a loud: "Welcome to our country, the Democratic Republic of Casamance."
He said: “By today’s act, the MFDC is making clear of its goodwill which has been characteristic to finding a solution to the war, contrary to the calamity we have been victims of. It is a promise I made to the prisoners when I granted interview to journalists in May 2012.
"The release of the eight prisoners does not mean that the fight has ended or the autonomy we are struggling for. The fight for the independence of Casamance is still on."
|Salifu Sadio: Independence struggle continues (Photo Credit: Saikou Jammeh)|
Visibly frail, the soldiers all of whom are young - between the ages of mid-20 to late-30s - were handed over to the Gambia government, who was represented by three ministers - presidential affairs, interior and foreign affairs.
Besides the Gambia government and the rebel leader, the deputy head of International Red Cross Society delegation, Beat Schneider, was also a signatory to the document that guarantees the freedom of Senegalese armies after a year or more in captivity.
Foreign diplomatic missions in Gambia, including the US, UK, Nigeria and Cuban ambassadors were all present to witness the event.
In a serene but dramatic climate, the meeting was held under a big cotton tree that provided shade for the tens of people surrounded by rebels with their rifles poised. This was after the delegation combed through a thick marsh in a single file to settle at the ground about 200 hundred kilometers from the Gambian border-village of Tamba Kunda.
Sadio renewed his vow never to compromise on the subject of Casamance independence in his dealings with the current government of Senegal, though he puts more expectations on President Macky Sall than the previous Senegalese presidents.
"Macky Sall was an agent for [former presidents] Joof and Wade. Now he is the head of state. I hope that he learnt many lessons to understand that Senegal will never succeed by using arms. Senegal should accept defeat and give up on Casamance, even though this means their economy will be affected because Casamance provides their resources," he said.
He blames the Senegalese forces for the atrocities on the civilian population of Casamance, and further blaming the international community for its inaction.
If today’s world is not what it is today, this war would not have lasted for 30 years. If peoples all over the world can have right to liberty, Casamance should not be an exception, he argued.
Rhetorically, he asked: “Is it because we do not have oil or uranium that is why the international community has ignored us?”
Source: The Voice