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Authorities in Mali arrested 49 Ivorian soldiers on Sunday at Bamako airport. They are considered “mercenaries” who arrived “illegally in the territory”, the government spokesman announced on Monday, adding that the file had been “transmitted to the competent judicial authorities”. Côte d’Ivoire demanded their release on Tuesday.
Detained for two days by the Malian authorities for verification, 49 Ivorian soldiers arrested on Sunday at Bamako airport are now considered “mercenaries”, said Monday, July 11, the government spokesman.
Côte d’Ivoire on Tuesday asked Mali to release “without delay” its 49 soldiers arrested “unfairly” Sunday at Bamako airport and accused by the authorities of this country of being “mercenaries”.
“No Ivorian soldier of this contingent was in possession of weapons and ammunition of war”, indicates a press release from the Ivorian presidency published at the end of an extraordinary National Security Council (CNS).
“It has been established that the forty-nine Ivorian soldiers were illegally on the national territory of Mali (…) in possession of weapons and ammunition of war, without a mission order or authorization”, declared Monday the door – government spokesman, Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga in a statement Monday evening on national television.
“The fatal intention of those arrested was clearly to break the dynamics of the refoundation and security of Mali, as well as the return to constitutional order,” he said.
Mali, a landlocked country in the heart of the Sahel, was the scene of two military coups in August 2020 and May 2021. It recently adopted a transition timetable to allow civilians to return to power in March 2024.
The political crisis goes hand in hand with a serious ongoing security crisis since the outbreak, in 2012, of independence and jihadist insurgencies in the north.
The spokesman for the United Nations mission in Mali (Minusma) Olivier Salgado had hinted earlier that the soldiers arrested were part of “national support elements” (NSE) logistics to Minusma.
The NSEs, said Olivier Salgado on his Twitter account, are “national personnel deployed by troop-contributing countries, in support of their contingents”, “a practice commonly applied in peacekeeping missions”.
“According to our information, their relief on July 10 would have been previously communicated to the national authorities,” he also said.
The Malian authorities note for their part that their Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not been informed through official channels.
The Malian government also noted a “flagrant violation” of the Malian penal code “criminalizing attacks on the external security of the State, including the attack on the integrity of the territory”.
Some of the Ivorian soldiers retained came to Mali on the basis of an agreement to work on the logistics base of the company Sahelian Aviation Services (SAS) on behalf of Minusma, an Ivorian diplomat told AFP under cover. of anonymity.
The Malian government affirms for its part that four different versions were put forward by the soldiers arrested to justify their presence on Malian territory: “the confidential mission, the rotation within the framework of the Minusma, the securing of the logistics base of the company Sahelian Aviation Services and the protection of the German contingent”.
Containing the jihadist spread
He thus decided “to put an end, with immediate effect, to the activity of protection of the airline company “Sahelian Aviation Services” by foreign forces and to demand their immediate departure from Malian territory”.
The information of the “arrest” of Ivorian soldiers began to be broadcast on social networks on Sunday before going viral, some accusing these soldiers of being “mercenaries” who came to Mali “to carry out a coup d’etat”.
Monday evening the Ivorian authorities had not yet officially reacted.
In January, the junta had asked Denmark to withdraw its troops which had just arrived but had been deployed “without its consent”. Copenhagen had denounced “a dirty political game”.
The ruling junta in Bamako has turned away from France and its partners, and turned to Russia to try to stem the spread of jihadism that has spread to the center of the country as well as neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger. .
This violence caused thousands of civilian and military deaths as well as hundreds of thousands of displaced persons.
With its approximately 13,000 soldiers, the Minusma – created in 2013 to support the Malian political process – was extended for a year on June 29.