12 freed after probe into 2018 Senegal massacre

AFP , Monday 31 Jan 2022

Twelve people who have been held for four years over a 2018 massacre in a troubled Senegalese region have been released, their lawyer said on Monday.

File Photo: Fourteen young men were slaughtered in execution-style killings in a protected forest on January 6 2018 in Senegal s troubled Casamance region. AFP

The 12, held in a jail in Ziguinchor, the main town in Casamance region, have been declared "innocent and freed" by an examining magistrate, while 13 others will be put on trial, said attorney Cire Cledor Ly.

Fourteen men were rounded up and executed in January 2018 as they went to cut down wood in a protected forest near Ziguinchor.

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

The 13 who will be put on trial include Omar Ampoi Bodian, a member of the MFDC's political wing, and journalist Rene Capain Bassene, said Ly.

They face an array of charges, including murder, attempted murder, criminal association and illegal possession of weapons, he said, lashing the accusations as a "parody of justice".

The date for the trial has yet to be set.

Home to 1.9 million people, Casamance is the theatre of a low-intensity but long-running separatist conflict that has claimed thousands of lives since it began in 1982.

Casamance was once among Portugal's colonies in West Africa along with what is today Guinea-Bissau.

In 1888, Portugal ceded it to colonial France, and it became part of Senegal after independence in 1960.

However, the region has a distinct culture and language, and geographically is almost separated from the rest of Senegal by the Gambia River, around which the tiny state of The Gambia is built.

Last week, the army announced that two soldiers in a West African military mission in The Gambia had died, and nine others were missing, following clashes with suspected MFDC rebels.

The incident happened while troops were carrying out operations against illegal logging in The Gambia.

The nine missing are believed to be in the hands of the MFDC, the Senegalese army says.

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