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Gunmen kidnap 12 mine clearance workers in southern Senegal
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5 May 2013
DAKAR (Reuters) - Gunmen suspected of belonging to a Senegalese separatist group abducted 12 employees of a South African mine clearance company in the West African nation's restive Casamance region, military and civilian officials said on Sunday.
The workers, all Senegalese, were on their way to inspect a mine field that had been cleared of explosives when they were kidnapped on Friday by men believed to be members of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC).
'I can confirm that 12 people were in fact kidnapped by an armed group. These people were working in de-mining (projects),' Senegalese army spokesman Abou Thiam told Reuters.
A second military official said the kidnapping took place in the village of Kaylou, about 30 km (18 miles) from the southern region's main city Ziguinchor.
A civilian official in Ziguinchor said the team were employed by the South African de-mining firm Mechem. Company officials could not be reached on Sunday.
'The authorities and police are seeking to contact the MFDC to work towards freeing them,' said the official, who asked not to be named.
The 31-year-old separatist rebellion in Casamance is one of Africa's longest-running insurgencies. Though largely dormant, the conflict remains an unhealed blemish on Senegal's otherwise enviable reputation as the only country in mainland West Africa that has not suffered a coup or a civil war since independence.
Various agencies have been working for several years to clear Casamance of landmines. However the MFDC warned in March against further de-mining in the region, claiming any such operations should be agreed within the framework of peace talks.
The MFDC, which launched its bid for independence in 1982, released eight prisoners, most of them Senegalese soldiers, in December after holding them captive for several months.
(Reporting by Diadie Ba; Additional reporting and writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Pravin Char)
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