Senegal and Guinea-Bissau denied last week the two West African neighbours were engaged in a border dispute after a military build-up there this week prompted dozens of Bissau-Guinean civilians to flee.
The two nations have a history of low-level tensions around their border, linked to disputes over ownership of potential oil reserves and Senegal’s accusations that previous Bissau governments harboured southern Senegalese separatist rebels.
Bissau-Guinean sources said this week the ex-Portuguese colony had sent several battalions of soldiers to its border.
“The movement of Bissau-Guinean troops on the border are perfectly normal in security terms,” said Senegalese Defence Minister Abdoulaye Balde after talks with his Bissau-Guinean counterpart.
“We have never had a problem recognising our border with Guinea-Bissau,” he added.
Bissau-Guinean Defence Minister Artur Silva said both states agreed that the border set by past colonial powers and which cuts across traditional ethnic groups was “untouchable”.
Balde said the two countries had agreed to revive a joint commission that had been created to pre-empt any border tensions but which has not met for 16 years.