Thursday, 7 June 2007

More news from Casamance

Rough Guide's Senegal updater, Roger Norum, was in Casamance recently. Here's his report on security in the area.

Security in Basse Casamance

"The bulk of the civil unrest in the Basse Casamance between the Senegalese government and various, disunified and dissident factions of the MFDC separatist movement had largely died down in 2004 once the peace treaty was signed with the rebels. At the time of writing, however, sporadic conflict had escalated in the region following the 2007 Senegalese elections, and there have since been occasional reports of highway banditry along the region’s borders.

Much of Casamance’s dangerous reputation has come from these intermittent road ambushes by rebels turned bandits: a Red Cross worker was killed in late 2006 when her vehicle struck a newly-placed land mine on an unpaved road in Tandine, northeast of Ziguinchor; four people were killed in early 2007 when their bus was attacked after being stopped at a roadblock; and in May, 2007 there were reports of shootings along the Gambian border. Such incidents have rarely involved tourists, but the British Foreign Office and the US State Department still advise visitors against travel to the region.

In practice, while some parts of Casamance were still no-go zones because of rebel activity and/or land mines – notably the forests south of the Kolda-Ziguinchor-Cap Skiring road, including the Basse Casamance National Park, and a couple of stretches along the Gambian border – other areas haven’t seen any armed conflict in years, if ever. During my visit in April, the main regional roads were on the whole considered to be quite safe during the day, thanks to army roadblocks and police checkpoints. And once inside Ziguinchor, Cap Skiring and other villages traditionally popular with tourists, the security risks were virtually non-existent – certainly smaller than being mugged in Dakar, for example.

The dilemma, then, seems not to be whether to go Casamance – since once you're there it feels quite safe, so long as you don’t venture far off the touristed routes – but how to get there in the first place. As the roads seem to be where the trouble lies, the best options for arrival are the daily flights or twice-weekly ferries from Dakar. Of course, things could deteriorate at short notice, so you should check the latest security situation before you go. Most people in other parts of Senegal will be full of dire warnings about Casamance, but unless you meet someone who has been there recently, it may be hard to discern some objective truth out of what you hear. You can get a more reliable account of the situation from the bush-taxi drivers who travel to Ziguinchor every day, or just by calling one of the Ziguinchor hotels, especially Le Flamboyant or Le Kadiandoumagne.

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