Casamance rebels free eight Senegalese prisoners

Reuters News

12/9/2012 2:27:22 PM - Reuters News

DAKAR (Reuters) - Separatist rebels in the south of Senegal released eight prisoners on Sunday in a first positive result from renewed peace talks seeking to end a three-decade-old, low-intensity conflict in the Casamance region.

The Catholic Church's Sant'Egidio community, which was asked by Senegal to act as mediator in the conflict, said in a statement that the Movement for the Democratic Forces (MFD) of Casamance, agreed to the release as a goodwill gesture.

Gambian officials and representatives of the International Red Cross accompanied the prisoners into Gambian territory where they were handed to Senegalese diplomats, Sant'Egidio said.

A spokesman for the community said the prisoners included seven soldiers and a firefighter, some of whom had been held captive for over a year.

The often dormant conflict picked up earlier this year and remains a blemish on Senegal's otherwise enviable reputation as the only country in mainland West Africa that has not suffered a coup or a civil war since independence.

Casamance, which lies in between Gambia to the north and Guinea-Bissau to the south, is known for its pristine white sandy beaches that were once a prime tourism destination.

(Writing by Bate Felix; editing by Jason Webb)