More than 120 alleged supporters of an armed separatist organization, including many possible prisoners of conscience, arrested in connection with political unrest in the Casamance region, remained detained without trial. At least one criminal suspect was reportedly tortured. Members of armed opposition groups in Casamance committed human rights abuses, including beatings and deliberate and arbitrary killings of civilians. Tension in Casamance between government forces and armed separatists belonging to the Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC), Democratic Forces of Casamance Movement, subsided after an appeal for peace made by MFDC Secretary General, Father Diamacoune Senghor in December 1995. Preliminary peace talks between the government of President Abdou Diouf and the MFDC began in January. The talks were mediated by the National Commission for Peace in Casamance. However, substantive negotiations between the authorities and the MFDC, due to start in April, were postponed indefinitely. The negotiations stalled on two issues: the location of the peace talks and the refusal of the government to allow Father Diamacoune to travel to France to meet the external wing of the MFDC. In May, the UN Committee against Torture, which examined Senegal's second periodic report, made recommendations which included the introduction of national legislation to make torture a specific offence and to establish a blanket prohibition of torture. This legal reform was adopted by the Senegalese National Assembly in August. Despite the relaxation of tension on the ground, more than 120 suspected MFDC sympathizers, including many possible prisoners of conscience, remained in detention without trial throughout the year. Many of the detainees were beaten at the time of arrest. They had been arrested from April 1995 onwards during a series of mass arrests by the army which followed the abduction of four French tourists. The latter remain unaccounted for (see Amnesty International Report 1996). Fifty-six people, mostly minors and sick people, arrested during these round-ups were provisionally released in December. However, more than 80 remained detained without trial in Dakar, the capital, and about 45 in Ziguinchor, the Casamance regional capital, at the end of the year. Although the detainees were charged with threatening state security, they were reportedly arrested because they were carrying MFDC membership cards. Such cards are often forced upon farmers by the MFDC. By the end of the year, a preliminary investigation to establish cases for trial had been officially initiated, but there were fears that the detainees were being held indefinitely without trial until a new agreement could be reached with the MFDC. In January, Daouda Dhiédhiou, an MFDC field officer in charge of liaison between the leadership and the military wing, was arrested in Ziguinchor. He remained in detention without charge or trial at Ziguinchor prison at the end of the year. No members of the security forces accused of torture or ill-treatment of ordinary criminal prisoners were brought to trial during the year. In April, Mohamed Hussein, a Mauritanian watchman, was reportedly tortured in a police station in Dakar. He was accused of shooting people he thought were armed robbers, an accusation he denied. In order to extract a confession, the police officers reportedly poured inflammable liquid on Mohamed Hussein's buttocks and set it alight. Two police officers were later charged with "involuntary blows and wounds"; they had not been brought to trial by the end of the year. Seven police officers and gendarmes charged in 1995 with acts of torture were provisionally released after several months of detention and none had been brought to trial by the end of the year. The gendarmes were charged with torturing Babacar Thior, a criminal suspect, whose body was doused with inflammable liquid and set alight, causing first- and second-degree burns. Five other police officers were charged with torturing Marème Ndiaye, also a criminal suspect, who reportedly had inflammable liquid poured onto her genitals (see Amnesty International Report 1996). The MFDC was responsible for human rights abuses, including deliberate and arbitrary killings of civilians on the basis of their ethnic origin or because they were suspected of assisting government forces. Villagers were beaten by MFDC members in an attempt to prevent them from harvesting crops. Armed men claiming to belong to the MFDC killed two brothers, Etienne and Paul Mendy, in July at Niaguis village, apparently because they were suspected of helping the Senegalese army. In February, Amnesty International published a report, Senegal: Widespread use of torture persists with impunity while human rights abuses also continue in Casamance, calling on the authorities to open inquiries into allegations of torture and to bring those responsible to trial. The organization also asked for the immediate and unconditional release of anyone detained in the context of the conflict in Casamance unless they were charged with a recognizably criminal offence. Following Amnesty International's report, the government promised also to create a guichet (office) for human rights which would deal with complaints of human rights violations. This office was not functioning by the end of the year.

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