RFI journalist faces expulsion as Casamance meeting ends

The Dakar correspondent of Radio France Internationale (RFI), Sophie Malibeaux, faces expulsion from Senegal after being accused by the country's authorities of giving "tendentious treatment" to the rebellion in Casamance, at a time when the government was trying to obtain a political settlement in Senegal's troubled southern region.

In a statement issued in the capital, Dakar, the Senegalese ministry of interior accused Malibeaux of "having tried to sabotage the peace process undertaken by the Senegalese government in Casasmance" and warned that such behaviour could not be tolerated.

Sources in Dakar said the government took strong offence at an RFI broadcast on the eve of crucial talks in Casamance on Monday.

Hundreds of delegates from the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casasamnce (MFDC) met in the provincial capital, Ziguinchor, to "harmonise their position" and adopt a common strategy on negotiations with the government.

RFI's report on the Ziguinchor event included an interview with Alexandre Djiba, an MFDC member who has consistently opposed the moves towards dialogue with the government. His position is backed by the MFDC leadership.

Malibeaux, who had been covering the Ziguinchor meeting, was escorted to the airport and put on a plane to Dakar. She was subsequently held at the ministry of interior, with a French diplomat present. An expulsion order was later delivered.

In a statement issued from Paris, RFI said it had no intention of interfering in Senegal's internal affairs. The Foreign Press Association in Dakar strongly criticised the government's move.

Despite hints that it was ready to back down and revoke the expulsion, the government however says Malibeaux would definitely leave the country within 10 days.

The Ziguinchor talks ended on Wednesday with strong commitments to peace and dialogue. The veteran leader of the MFDC, Father Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, called on MFDC fighters to lay down their arms. While not pressing for an independent state, Diamacoune said Casamance should receive better treatment "in a Senegal which belongs to all of us".

Diamacoune's moderate stance was echoed by the MFDC's Secretary-General, Jean-Marie Francois Biagui, who told delegates: "war is over".

But there were already fears these appeals may have little impact on MFDC hardliners. The meeting was boycotted by supporters of Sidy Badji, former military leader of the MFDC and longtime rival of Diamaounce who died in May. They remained sceptical about the prospects of a dialogue with the government.

Some observers believe the MFDC leadership has no real hold on the bush fighters who continue to carry out a low intensity war, staging road ambushes and hit-and-run attacks. Observers pointed out that "while it's the politicians who do the signing, it's the rebels who fire the guns".

There have been other highly-publicised peace initiatives in Casamance, notably in 1991. The initiatives have yet to have a positive impact.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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