The 12 employees of specialist demining company Denel Mechem who were taken hostage in southern Senegal last Friday have been visited by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who have established that they are in good health.
The nine men and three women are all Senegalese citizens. They were on their way to inspect a mine field that had been cleared of explosives when they were kidnapped last Friday by men believed to be members of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC).
Denel said it was keeping in close contact with international organisations such as the Red Cross and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as well as the government of Senegal to secure the release of the hostages at the earliest opportunity.
“Denel welcomes the visit by the ICRC, and confirmation that the employees are unharmed and in good spirit. The company has sent them hampers containing clean clothes, bedding and hygienic products, and continues to provide emotional support to their families,” the company said.
The local representative of the ICRC, Thierry Parodi, said the aim of the visit, which took place on Wednesday, was to check on the treatment the abducted employees are receiving and assess the conditions in which they are being held. The ICRC was also able to speak to them in private and took personal messages which they will convey to their families.
Denel Mechem has been deployed in the Casamance province in Senegal since August 2012 to perform humanitarian demining services. The demining takes place under the auspices of the UNDP and the Senegalese National Demining Authority.
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.
In April last year two of Mechem’s workers, a South African and a South Sudanese, were abducted by the Sudanese military while working on a United Nations landmine clearance contract in South Sudan. The workers were released a month later.