Three soldiers died in the fighting on January 24 between the Senegalese army and rebels from the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), it said late Monday. (File/AFP)

Separatist rebels have killed four Senegalese soldiers and are holding seven hostage after a clash on the border between Senegal and The Gambia last week, the Senegalese army said in a statement.

Three soldiers died in the fighting on January 24 between the Senegalese army and rebels from the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), it said late Monday. A fourth died from wounds several days later.
Seven soldiers are being held hostage by the MFDC, and all are “alive and in good health,” the army said.

The MFDC is behind a low-intensity breakaway conflict in Senegal’s southern region of Casamance that dates back to 1982 and has claimed several thousand lives.

A previous tally said two soldiers were killed and nine were missing, but the army said all were now accounted for.
“There are no more missing persons,” it said in its statement.
The soldiers were part of the peacekeeping mission from the West African bloc ECOWAS in The Gambia, which is known as ECOMIG.

Comprising mainly Senegalese soldiers, ECOMIG was deployed to The Gambia in January 2017 when former dictator Yahya Jammeh refused to cede power after losing a presidential election.
The clashes took place as soldiers were on an operation to combat illegal logging on the border with The Gambia, the army said last week.

Casamance was a Portuguese possession for several hundred years until it was ceded to colonial France in 1888, becoming part of Senegal after the country gained independence in 1960.
The region, which has a distinct culture and language, is separated geographically from the rest of Senegal by the Gambia River, around which lies the tiny state of The Gambia.