Guinea: February 20, 2004


Guinea-Bissau's army chief admitted that four soldiers were killed and 14 wounded in almost two weeks of clashes with separatist rebels on the Senegalese border. A patrol of Guinea-Bissau soldiers fell into a rebel ambush, while three other soldiers were killed by landmines over the weekend of 14-15th. The army also claimed that the suspected rebels had suffered a "huge" number of casualties, which have yet to be be tallied. 

After moving reinforcements into the area and planning to set up a field hospital in Farim (near the Senegalese frontier), the army declared that the border region "clear", the "armed bandits" tied to the Casamance Democratic Forces Movement (MFDC) having returned to their bases in southern Senegal. Guinea-Bissau's Oio province is about 100 kilometers northeast of the capital Bissau. 

Hundreds of locals have also been maimed by mines in Senegal's Casamance, a former tourist spot frequently be French vacationers. However, Casamance's local hotel owners reported a 62 percent increase in business since last year (primarily from Dutch and other European tourists) and Senegal doesn't need any more problems. While mainly Muslim Senegal has a reputation for religious tolerance, stability and security, the head of Roman Catholic Church received a death threat from a group calling itself 'Steel Circle' after church leaders had spoken out against politically motivated violence. 

This corner of Africa has taken on greater importance, ever since friends of Al-Qaeda started to pop up in the more lawless frontier regions. West Africa's Gulf of Guinea currently supplies US refineries with 15 percent of their crude and by 2015, as much as 25 percent of US oil imports could come from Africa's oil belt (from Mauritania past Sao Tome down to Angola). The United States is also considering building a deep-water sea port and new airport on the Sao Tome islands (300 kilometers off the African coast). America has already pledged $800,000 for feasibility studies into the potential projects, but denied reports they were planning to establish a naval or military base on the islands.

On the 19th, French President Jacques Chirac held talks with Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade in Paris. France-Senegalese ties are apparently under pressure, largely due to Senegal's increasingly closer ties to the United States. The French wanted to flex a bit of political muscle. 

Three days before that, Gambia announced that oil in "large quantities" had been discovered in waters off it's coast. The nearest commercial finds currently under development are in Mauritania (600 kilometers to the north) and in the Ivory Coast (1,500 kilometers to the southeast). Both of those countries are former French colonies.

The MFDC 'rebels' have fought a low-level insurgency since 1982, allegedly for greater autonomy for the largely Christian region of Casamance from the rest of mostly Muslim Senegal. In reality, they are little more than drug-running criminals. Left unchecked, they (and armed groups like them) could prove to be as expensively annoying to the entire West African oil industry as the Ijaw hijacking pirates are to Nigeria's offshore oil riggers. - Adam Geibel



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