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In Senegal and Mauritania, Ethnic Conflict Rages Amid Talk of War

June 03, 1989|RONE TEMPEST | Times Staff Writer

In the resulting panic, tens of thousands of refugees were airlifted out of the two countries. Between 80,000 and 100,000 Mauritanians were expelled from Senegal, and at least 70,000 Senegalese and other blacks were expelled from Mauritania.

A typical case was that of a black African from Mauritania who had worked in a refinery at Nouadhibou, the Mauritanian port and industrial center on the border with Morocco. Interviewed at the Oakam army post, he asked that his name not be used because of possible danger to his wife and seven children who stayed behind.

"On the eighth of May," he said, "I worked the night at the refinery. When I came home, they arrested me without telling me why. They took me here on an airplane and left my wife, sister-in-law and seven children there. I have no idea where they are now."

The economic impact of the deportations is severe in both countries, although perhaps greater in Mauritania, where the black Africans were a crucial element in society.

"The Mauritanian economy simply cannot exist without some other kind of skilled labor, particularly in the fishing industry, health care area and clerical work, being imported to replace the people who left," said a Western observer who knows both countries well.

Likewise, in Senegal, the sudden departure of the Mauritanian shopkeepers, mainly grocers in villages and the residential areas of Dakar, caused food shortages for several weeks. In the capital almost every block has a store left empty by fleeing Mauritanians.

"We Mauritanians have a genius for commerce," said one of the several junior Mauritanian diplomats remaining in Dakar after the recall of the ambassador last week. "There are some Senegalese villages with 10,000 people living there but with no roads leading in. In the center of these towns you will find a Mauritanian petit commercient , his shelves full of goods."

The recent violence against Mauritanian shopkeepers sent a shiver of fear through another Arab minority here--the estimated 28,000 Lebanese shopkeepers, whose forebears for the most part migrated here at the turn of the century.

"There has been a lot of xenophobia in Senegal," said Hassan Ibrahim, 33, owner of a small carpet shop near the Courtyard of the Moors. "We are afraid the Lebanese are the next victims."

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