46 Ivorian soldiers pardoned by the junta leave Mali


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Forty-six Ivorian soldiers detained in Mali since July left the capital Bamako on Saturday, a day after being pardoned by the Malian junta leader, an airport official and a diplomatic source told TBEN.

The Ivorian soldiers, whose detention sparked a bitter diplomatic row between Mali and the Ivory Coast, were arrested on July 10, 2022 after arriving in Bamako.

Mali accused them of being mercenaries, while the Ivory Coast and the United Nations say they were flown in to provide routine backup security for the UN peacekeeping mission’s German contingent.

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On December 30, a Malian court sentenced the 46 soldiers to 20 years in prison, while three women of the original 49 arrested, who had already been released in September, were sentenced to death in absentia.

They were convicted of “attack and conspiracy against the government” and for undermining state security, prosecutor Ladji Sara said at the time.

Malian junta leader Assimi Goita pardoned all 49 troops on Friday.

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From Bamako, they will travel to the Togo capital of Lome before continuing on to Abidjan, a Togolese diplomatic official told TBEN.

Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe mediated in the dispute and paid a “friendly working visit” to Bamako on Wednesday.

Diplomatic Efforts

The trial began in Bamako on December 29 and concluded the next day.

It came ahead of a January 1 TBEN set by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders for Mali to release the soldiers or face sanctions.

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An Ivorian delegation had traveled to Mali for talks before the trial began, and the Ivorian Defense Ministry had said the dispute was “on its way to being resolved”.

An agreement reached between Mali and Ivory Coast at the time had left open the possibility of a presidential pardon by Goita.

The Malian government on Friday cited a memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries “on the promotion of peace and the strengthening of relations of friendship, brotherhood and good neighborliness between the Republic of Mali and the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire”.

It also thanked Togo’s president, but denounced the “aggressive position” of ECOWAS leader Umaro Sissoco Embalo.

Prolonged tensions

Relations between Mali and its West African neighbors had been strained before the arrests, since President-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was ousted in August 2020 by officers angry at their failure to quell a jihadist insurgency.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara is considered one of the most implacable West African leaders towards Malian statesmen.

After the troops were detained, the UN acknowledged some procedural “dysfunctions” in a note addressed to the Malian government, stating that “certain measures have not been followed”.

The Ivorian presidency also admitted “shortcomings and misunderstandings”.

But the row escalated in September, when diplomatic sources in the region said Mali wanted Côte d’Ivoire to acknowledge its responsibility and express regret for deploying the soldiers.

Bamako also wanted Côte d’Ivoire to extradite people who had been on its territory since 2013 but are wanted in Mali, they said.

Ivory Coast rejected both demands and was ready for extensive negotiations to free the troops, the sources said.

“This hostage-taking will not be without consequences,” Ouattara said at the time.

Tensions led Mali’s then interim Prime Minister, Abdoulaye Maiga, to denounce a “synchronization of actions” against Mali at the UN General Assembly in September.

He attacked UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for stating that the Ivorian soldiers were not mercenaries.

He also criticized ECOWAS chief Embalo and the heads of state of Ivory Coast and Niger.