A rebel offensive in Senegal's Casamance province has forced more than 1,000 people to flee into the Gambia this week, bringing to 3,500 the number of refugees since fresh fighting broke out in mid-May, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today.
On Tuesday, hundreds of refugees carrying belongings were still arriving through Gjiboro border post, just south of Gambia's capital, Banjul, the agency said in a statement issued in Geneva. The arrivals reported heavy fighting between Senegalese Government forces and the separatist MFDC (Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance). Over 500 refugees arrived on Monday morning alone, mostly women and children.
These refugees said the latest influx was triggered by reports that rebels had captured the Senegal town of Selity, two kilometres south of Gbijoro, looting its armoury and destroying communications equipment.
Refugees from the northern Casamance village of Jakoi Banga informed UNHCR staff that they had fled after Senegalese soldiers started digging defence trenches near their village on Saturday.
UNHCR, working with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Red Cross Society of the Gambia, is providing emergency assistance to the several hundred refugees encamped in the country's southern border villages, and those living at a transit camp in Kwinella, 70 kilometres north of the border.
The civil conflict in Senegal's southern Casamance Province began in 1982 and has simmered on since then, sometimes breaking out into all-out war. Several peace agreements between the Government of Senegal and the separatist MFDC rebels have broken down in the past, UNHCR said, with hard-line elements in the MFDC insisting on independence from Dakar.
UNHCR is caring for 12,400 refugees in the Gambia, including 1,675 from Senegal who arrived before the recent upsurge in fighting.