'Over 500' flee restive Casamance in Senegal to Gambia
DAKAR — Over 500 Senegalese have fled to Gambia since January to escape fighting between the army and separatist rebels in the restive southern Casamance region, the UN refugee agency said on Wednesday.
"More than 500 Senegalese refugees have arrived in Gambia since January 2011," UNHCR spokesman in Dakar Francis Kpatinde told AFP, adding this brought to 8,000 the number of Senegalese refugees in the tiny country.
He said those crossing the border claimed to be fleeing fighting between the army and Movement for Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) separatist fighters.
The refugees are mainly coming to Sibanor and Bullock, two towns in western Gambia.
Fighting has intensified between the army and MFDC rebels, with at least 19 soldiers killed since December in the Casamance, a region separated from the rest of Senegal by Gambia which has been wracked by a rebellion for independence since 1982.
The Senegalese government blame the new attacks on rebels equipped wiuth sophisticated new weoponry, believed to be supplied by Iran.
The revelations caused Dakar to break ties with Tehran on February 22.
Despite a 2004 peace accord, talks stalled shortly afterwards, and have been hampered by the MFDC being split into different factions.