The Senegalese army said on Tuesday that nine Senegalese soldiers from the West African mission in Gambia had been missing since Monday and are thought to be held captive by Casamance insurgents following fighting during an operation against timber trafficking. The army claimed in a statement that the nine soldiers “would most likely be kept captive by the MFDC,” an armed group striving for independence in Casamance, an area in southern Senegal bordering Gambia. “Operations are still underway to locate them and secure the area,” the statement read.
Two Senegalese soldiers, a junior officer and a senior soldier, were killed in confrontations with suspected rebels in western Gambia on Monday, according to the Senegalese army. Western Gambia is partly bordered by Senegal and home to rebels of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC). “One rebel was killed and three others were taken prisoner during confrontations following a forceful military action,” the army said in a statement on Tuesday. Two rebels were taken prisoner, according to the army’s prior statement on Monday.
It stated Tuesday that the battles with suspected rebels took place “as part of an activity to secure and fight against illegal trafficking, particularly against the criminal exploitation of timber on the Gambia border.” “During the last five months, the Senegalese task force deployed as part of the International Force in The Gambia has stopped 77 trucks unlawfully trafficking timber from Senegal,” the Economic Community of West African States mission in The Gambia (Ecomig) said.
MFDC militants kidnapped five Senegalese troops in December 2011 during an attack on a military cantonment in Kabeum, 60 kilometers northwest of Ziguinchor, Casamance’s main town. Following mediation by the Catholic community Sant’Egidio, they were released in December 2012. Since independence fighters took to the streets following the repression of a march in December 1982, Casamance has been the battleground of one of Africa’s oldest conflicts. The violence has continued at a low intensity while claiming thousands of lives and wreaking havoc on the economy. Senegal is striving to restore normalcy and has begun moving those who have been displaced.
The Ecomig was established by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in response to the political crisis caused by former Gambian president and tyrant Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to stand down following his defeat in the December 2016 presidential election. International pressure and the arrival of Senegalese troops on Gambian land finally forced Yahya Jammeh into exile in January 2017. Ecomig’s strength of several hundred troops is largely made up of Senegalese personnel. The mandate of Ecomig has been renewed multiple times.