Ghost Villages in Foni as Casamance War Intensifies

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By Nelson Manneh & Mustapha Jallow

Some villages along the Senegal-Gambia border have turned into ghost towns as women and young children vacate their residences. They left as a result of the ongoing fight between Senegalese soldiers and MFDC combatants near their villages.

Villages like Jakin, Kamosorr and Oupat in Foni Bintang District have now turned into ghost towns following Monday and Tuesday’s fight between the soldiers and the rebels in southern Senegal, Casamance. The women and children fled for their safety. Some men in the three communities left, leaving a few of them behind looking after their properties. Gambian soldiers were seen in the villages securing the area.

People abandoned their homes as schools and mosques closed. Some clothes, bowls, cooking utensils and shoes were seen scattered in the open.

In the 3 villages, there are few people left in each of the villages. Each of the village Alkalos stayed back with a few men and were seen sitting under the trees outside their compounds. They said they were told by some Gambian soldiers not to flee their homes.

Members of the counter-terrorism unit of the Gambian army were seen heavily armed patrolling the villages in a bid to ensure that the Gambian citizens and its territories are fully protected. Residents fled to Sibanor village and other villages along the Trans-Gambia highway for safety.

Several shells landed in Jakin, Oupat, Kamosorr villages, where Foroyaa visited on Wednesday, 10th May 2023. During the straying of shells, according to Jakin’s Alkalo, three sheep were hit, leaving two dead and one was left badly injured.

The Alkalo showed the reporters the place where dozens of shells were picked up and handed over to Gambia Armed Force. He said some shells buried themselves in the ground and could not be traced.

“We are monitoring the drone. It is really sabotaging the regional peace efforts,’’ a military intelligence officer told Foroyaa.  

“This area is a dangerous place to live now. Anyone who passes through the villages feels the danger,’’ a 49-year-old farmer, Aliue Tambia, said. 

Tamba sent away his five children and decided to stay back to look after their properties.

He added: “Our women are scared to return to Jakin and the other smaller villages.’’

Tamba said has no idea when their women and children will return to the village. He said they fled their families because they feared the shootings into their villages by the foreign soldiers and the rebels.

“Our families might be killed because shells were coming from different directions. That is why we decided to vacate them,’’ he said. 

Ousman Tamba, the Alkalo of Jakin Village said, all the women and children in his village have been relocated to different villages along the Trans-Gambia Highway.

“We are leaving in fear. We have recovered dozens of shells that landed within my village together with members of the Gambia Armed Force who came for a patrol. The situation is getting worse by day,” he said.

Alkalo Tamba said three of their sheep were killed by bullets on Tuesday.

“The village is now empty because all the women and children are currently internally displaced,” Alkalo Tamba said.

He said they still live in their village because of the presence of the Gambian soldiers who are currently stationed within their village, and have been there for more than two days.

“My village is empty, everybody has left. Only the men are around to protect our belongings. We are not comfortable with the situation. All of us cannot vacate the village just like that, this is why some of us are still here,” he said.

The Alkalo of Jakin village said most of them have their cashew farms and other farmlands at the border. As the raining season is fast approaching, he said, they have started clearing their lands, but are now forced to stop due to the volatile situation.

“We are not comfortable with the situation at all. I think my village recovered the highest number of shells at the moment. We saw shells inside some houses which makes it unsafe,” he said.

The villagers in these three communities urged the government of the Gambia to hold a dialogue with the Senegalese government in a view to bringing a lasting peace.

“We lose our domestic animals. We have no sources of income except farming and fetching firewood. Now, we are stopped from entering the forest and our source of income in that area is banned,” he said.

Meanwhile, a senior military official stated that the intention of the Senegalese soldiers was to use the Gambia territory as launching ground against the MFDC’s fighters.

While the reporters were doing their fact findings along the border villages, a drone flew the Gambian airspace, which a source within the Gambia National Army confirmed that it was a Senegalese drone. The military sources said the Senegalese soldiers are entering the Gambian airspace.

A military intelligence informed Foroyaa that the fight between the two forces began on Friday, last week. He stated that the recent fight was prompted after a Senegalese military vehicle was allegedly destroyed by the rebels. The Senegalese soldiers were not pleased with it and engaged the rebels in a fight.

Members of the Gambia Armed Forces deployed at the border said they are out to protect the people and the territory of the Gambia. They were seen armed with rifles. They demand for more patrol vehicles and more heavy weapons.

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