A team from Geneva Call and APRAN-SDP has met commanders of the Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) led by César Atoute Badiate to advocate for the release of the twelve deminers of the South African organization Mechem, who were taken captive on 3 May in Kaïlou, Senegal. The two organizations have been in dialogue with the MFDC on the issue of the antipersonnel landmine ban and humanitarian demining since 2006. Geneva Call and APRAN-SDP welcome the release yesterday of the three women detained by the MFDC and call for the urgent release without delay of the nine remaining deminers.
The abduction occurred in the tense setting of demining operations in the Casamance region which has seen armed conflict for more than thirty years. With the arrival of new operators last year, the demining operations initiated in 2008 have progressed rapidly and reached new zones near the military bases of the MFDC. Two months ago in Sao Domingos, Guinea Bissau, with a view to preventing incidents and ensuring the safety of demining operations, Geneva Call and APRAN SDP facilitated a direct dialogue between the MFDC and the Centre National d’Action Antimines au Sénégal (CNAMS), the agency in charge of coordinating demining operations on the ground. At this meeting, the MFDC said they considered CNAMS had reached a ‘red line’ beyond which demining operations constituted a threat to their security and therefore could put deminers at risk. The MFDC considers that « the complete demining of Casamance depends on the peace process », according to the joint press statement published following the Sao Domingos meeting.
Today, Geneva Call and APRAN-SDP regret the recent turn of events and call on the State of Senegal and the MFDC to both make concessions and continue on-going dialogue in the interests of the local populations suffering from the impact of antipersonnel mines. The two organizations remain at the disposal of the two parties to facilitate, as quickly as possible, a negotiated agreement that would enable the safe pursuit of demining operations and the restitution of land to local communities.