Bissau holds ex-minister, army fights Senegal rebels (SENEGAL)

04.04.2006, BISSAU (Reuters) - Guinea Bissau's security forces have detained a former interior minister on suspicion of helping rebels from neighbouring Senegal fighting Bissau's army, police sources said on Monday.


The fighting, the worst for more than a decade involving separatist rebels from Senegal's southern Casamance region, has displaced thousands of civilians and reopened old rivalries among Bissau's fractious political elite.
Former Interior Minister Marcelino Simoes Lopes Cabral was arrested at his home in the former Portuguese colony's capital Bissau during Sunday night, police sources told Reuters.
They said Lopes Cabral stood accused of helping Salif Sadio, the leader of a hardline faction of Senegal's Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) which has fought Bissau's army since mid-March near the Senegalese border.
Lopes Cabral was closely linked to late army leader Ansumane Mane, who unseated veteran President Joao Bernardo Vieira after a 1998-99 civil war and was accused by critics of trafficking arms to Salif Sadio. Vieira was re-elected last year.
The latest fighting, in which landmines have killed civilians and soldiers, has revived memories of the height of the MFDC's armed campaign in the 1990s.
The group took up arms against Senegal's central government in 1982, complaining of neglect and demanding independence for the southern Casamance province, which is divided from the rest of the former French colony by the former British colony of Gambia.
Violence has generally been low-level but peace moves have failed to end sporadic bloodshed.
Humanitarian agencies say more than 5,000 people have been displaced by the most recent clashes.
Rival MFDC factions attacked Sadio's forces, who took refuge across the border in Guinea Bissau in a heavily mined stronghold where they have weathered several offensives by the Bissau army.
The fighting has opened up deep rifts within Bissau's political establishment, with Vieira's opponents accusing his government of interfering in Senegalese affairs.
Some journalists operating in the tiny, poor country have complained of harassment because of their reporting of the border fighting.
Last week, Guinea Bissau's army chief Major-General Batista Tagm Na Wai demanded the lifting of parliamentary immunity from any MPs implicated in the latest violence, after an opposition MP was accused of funding Sadio's group.

Von: By Alberto Dabo, 04.04.2006,

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