The Malian junta arrests 49 Ivorian “mercenaries” at the risk of reigniting a regional crisis

The Malian junta arrests 49 Ivorian

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Mali's transitional president, Colonel Assimi Goïta (right), during the national army day, in Kati, January 20, 2022.

With his somewhat loose trellis, Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga does not really fit into the standard of television news presenters. His appearances, however, have become a guarantee of audience for Malian national television, as when he had invited France in February to withdraw ” without delay “ its soldiers from Operation Barkhane. The spokesperson for the junta in power in Bamako did not fail in his reputation, Monday July 11, by announcing that 49 Ivorian soldiers arrested the day before at Bamako airport were considered to be “mercenaries” and that these had been “made available to the competent judicial authorities”.

Equipped with “their armaments” and of “munitions of war” but having concealed their real profession by passing themselves off on their passports as “students, drivers, masons, mechanics, saleswomen…”, these soldiers, mostly from the Ivorian special forces, would have entered “illegally” on Malian territory on two separate flights, “without mission order or authorization”, with “the evil design (…) obviously to break the dynamics of the refoundation and securing of Mali, as well as the return to constitutional order”, according to the description of the events.

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The Ivorian soldiers reportedly gave four different reasons for their arrival, one of which “confidential mission” that the government spokesman did not take care to specify. Contacted by their counterparts, the Ivorian military officials allegedly affirmed “that they were ignorant of everything” of the presence of these soldiers. To create a way out and perhaps avoid a diplomatic crisis, the communiqué from the Malian transitional government, read by the officer, ends with a call for “cooperation with the sister Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, so that all the light is shed on this affair”.

“It’s crazy! »

Apart from this precaution, this statement may seem as brutal as it is impromptu, just eight days after Mali’s neighbors lifted the commercial and financial blockade they had imposed on it in January. The hour seemed to ease and Monday evening, in Abidjan, an official source lost his words: “It’s crazy! Why would we attempt a coup de force when we have just lifted sanctions? These soldiers are there as part of an agreement, in particular to secure the base of the German contingent of Minusma [mission des Nations unies pour la stabilisation au Mali]. »

The Malian accusations may indeed seem all the more surprising since a few hours earlier the spokesperson for the UN mission had seemed to extinguish the controversy. “These soldiers have been deployed for several years in Mali as part of logistical support on behalf of one of our contingents. According to our information, their relief on July 10 would have been communicated beforehand to the national authorities”, explained Olivier Salgado in a series of tweetsspecifying that this use of “national support elements” (NSE) is “a common practice in peacekeeping missions”.

At the same time, a note, dated July 5 and attributed to the Ivorian Ministry of Defense, appeared on social networks. This indicates that ” The 8the NSE detachment » driven by “Lieutenant Kouassi Adam Sanni of the Special Forces, will relieve the 7e detachment on July 10 in Bamako”.

Blocking strategy

Consequently, if it is only a question of a routine rotation and that these soldiers did not have “the evil design” that the Malian government lends them, this new episode of tension can only be understood in the blocking strategy, now imposed by Bamako on Minusma. After having pushed the French forces to hasten their exit, the Malian authorities have multiplied the obstacles to the work of a UN mission weakened by this departure.

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In retaliation for sanctions in the region, nearly 2,500 blue helmets from West Africa were still unable to be relieved in June. Some for over a year. UN flights and ground travel are subject to increasing restrictions. The Ivorian soldiers arrested were to be seconded to the company Sahel Aviation Service, a UN subcontractor, which the government invited “to entrust his security from now on” to the Malian army.

When the mandate of the Minusma was renewed at the end of June, Mali had made it known that it intended to submit the movements of the Mission and its investigations relating to human rights to its authorization. Bamako had just experienced a small victory by obtaining that in the resolution, no direct condemnation be made of Wagner, this private security company close to the Kremlin, whose mercenaries have been operating with Malian soldiers since January.

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