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Ivory Coast demands release of soldiers held in Mali

July 12, 2022

Mali's authorities arrested 49 Ivorian soldiers and labeled them "mercenaries" who allegedly planned to stage a coup. Neighboring Ivory Coast says the soldiers were working with a UN peacekeeping mission.

Ivorian soldiers attend the opening ceremony of Flintlock 2022 at the international Academy for combating terrorism in Jacqueville in Ivory Coast
Malian forces have captured soldiers from Ivory CoastImage: ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

Ivory Coast's National Security Council on Tuesday called on the Malian authorities to immediately release 49 Ivorian soldiers detained in Mali.

Mali's military government said on Monday that its forces had captured 49 soldiers who had come into the country from the neighboring Ivory Coast with the intent to stage a coup.

Terming the soldiers "mercenaries," the Malian authorities said they had landed in Bamako, the capital, on Sunday without permission. The soldiers were carrying weapons, ammunition and other military equipment, according to the government statement.

The soldiers had "forced their way into Malian territory illegally," the military government said. 

But Ivory Coast contested Mali's claims. "No Ivorian soldier from this contingent was in possession of weapons and ammunition when he got off the plane. The weapons of the contingent, as authorized by the United Nations for personal protection and self-defense cases and according to the procedures in the matter, were in a second plane," Ivory Coast's statement said.

Ivory Coast says soldiers were with peacekeeping mission

According to the Ivory Coast, the soldiers were deployed as part of a security and logistics support contract signed with the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, in July 2019.

They were the eighth rotation sent to Mali under the convention, and their mission order had been sent to both airport authorities and the junta before arrival, Ivory Coast's national security council said in a statement.

UN mission spokesman Olivier Salgado confirmed that the soldiers were working for a German company contracted by MINUSMA.

Since 2012, there have been three coups in Mali, a country of about 20 million people. The country has been ruled by a transitional military government since the last coup in May last year. It is reported to enjoy close links with Russia.

The military government has pledged to hold elections by March 2024.

dh/fb (AP, dpa, Reuters)