DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Separatist rebels ambushed a convoy of civilian vehicles in Senegal's lush Casamance enclave, robbing the passengers and executing seven of them, witnesses and military officials said Saturday.
The attack happened Friday on a highway outside a village not far from the town of Bignona, 150 miles southeast of the capital of Dakar.
The seven trucks and minibuses were filled mainly with families heading to a weekend Muslim festival. The rebels stopped them, then ordered seven of the passengers to lie down on the road face-down, a passenger said.
"The rebels then killed them in cold blood by pumping them with bullets," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The rebels also burned two of the trucks before fleeing the scene in two minibuses.
At least 10 other civilians have been killed over the past week in similar attacks blamed on the rebel Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance.
The killings came amid unconfirmed reports that several moderate leaders of the fractious rebel group had been replaced by more extreme members.
Several independent newspapers in the West African nation accused rebel leaders of staging the attacks to scuttle ongoing peace negotiations with the government.
The insurgents are fighting for autonomy of Casamance, which is physically divided from most of northern Senegal by the country of Gambia. More than 1,400 people on both sides reportedly have been killed since the rebellion began in 1983.
The rebels claim Casamance was never ruled by the French as part of Senegal and so should remain independent. France, which governed Senegal as a colony until 1960, disputes the claim.
Casamance, a lush region of forests, plantations and idyllic beaches, has long been a popular destination for European tourists, including many French.