President Macky Sall on Thursday suspended all authorisations for logging and ordered an overhaul of Senegal’s forestry laws after a massacre connected to the illegal trade in timber.
In a statement, Sall said he had instructed the government “to suspend until further orders all authorisations for logging and to immediately proceed with a revision of the forestry code.”
He also urged the armed forces to “use all necessary means to permanently neutralise all armed groups” operating on national soil.
On January 6, 14 young men were murdered, most of them in execution-style killings in the forest of Borofaye in the southern Casamance region.
Twenty-two people have been arrested.
The victims were looking for firewood, according to friends who escaped and their families.
But several sources told AFP the group was potentially involved in the illegal logging trade in a region with plentiful rosewood and teak, both highly prized in China.
A local rebel group, the Casamance Movement of Democratic Forces (MFDC), which is behind a 35-year-old campaign for independence, was initially fingered for involvement in the killings but has strongly denied the allegations.
It says the logging network is run by corrupt local military and governmental officials, and that the murders were linked sawmill operators who work secretly in the forest.
– Dialogue to continue –
Violence linked to the separatists’ campaign has left thousands of civilians and military personnel dead and forced many to flee. The economy, heavily dependent on agriculture and tourism, has been badly hurt.
However, since Sall took office in 2012 and revived peace talks, the region has been calm.
Both Sall and the MFDC have signalled their desire to maintain negotiations that restarted last October under the guidance of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a peace mediation charity with ties to the Vatican.
In his statement, Sall reaffirmed his commitment to “inclusive dialogue” for attaining peace in Casamance.
His announcement of an overhaul of timber laws followed remarks last week by Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall, who said the authorities would “evaluate the policy for criminality linked to wood trafficking in the region.”
Illegal loggers reputedly take timber from Casamance over the border to The Gambia, from where it is exported, often to China.