Senegal: Senegalese rebel 'to free soldiers if demands met'
A landmine victim who lost both legs in southern Senegal's conflict
The most radical chief of southern Senegal's separatist rebels said he would free soldier hostages if the government agrees to negotiate "outside of Africa", in a radio interview aired Tuesday.
"If Senegal accepts the meager conditions that I've set forth, we'll be ready to begin freeing these prisoners," Salif Sadio told Radio France Internationale (RFI).
Sadio is a top military boss with the Casamance Movement of Democratic Forces (MFDC), who have waged a 30-year independence struggle in the southern Casamance and took hostage five Senegalese soldiers and one policeman in December 2011.
Since 1982, MFDC have fought for independence for the underdeveloped Casamance region, separated from the rest of Senegal by Gambia, in a conflict that has seen periods of quiet and surges of violence.
Since his election in March, Senegal President Macky Sall has made an effort to reach out to regions that feel marginalised, holding cabinet meetings in different parts of the country of 12 million people, including Casamance.
In the Tuesday interview Sadio said he wants Senegal's government to agree to "sincere dialogue, to sit down with the MFDC on neutral ground, so outside of Africa" under "the mediation of the Catholic community of Sant'Egidio."
The Sant'Egidio Community was founded in Rome in 1968 and got involved in sponsoring peace negotiations in the 1980s when it found that its humanitarian action in Mozambique would be largely useless without peace.
"Let's go elsewhere where we can at least find a mediator in whom perhaps everyone will be able to confide, just as much Senegal as us," Sadio said.
He argued that Guinea-Bissau, which he accused of "teaming up" with Senegal against the MFDC, and Gambia, which Dakar accuses of supporting the rebels, were both unfit to mediate.
The conflict, which has persisted for 30 years despite several peace accords, has claimed thousands of civilian and military lives and displaced tens of thousands of people.
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