Mali: 49 Ivorian soldiers arrested after the military labels them “mercenaries”

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Wednesday, 13 July 2022 18:56

Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita walks with his Ivory Coast counterpart Alassane Ouattara upon his arrival in Bamako, Mali July 23, 2020. Press Service of Prime Ministry/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE.

On Tuesday 12 July, Côte d'Ivoire demanded that Mali release 49 soldiers arrested in the country’s main international airport in Bamako on Sunday 10 July. 

According to Mali’s military government, the Ivorian soldiers arrived without permission and the correct documentation. The junta has charged the soldiers as mercenaries, and in an official statement claimed the soldiers listed several reasons for entry, including participation in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

In a statement on Twitter, interim leader Colonel Assimi Goita said he had spoken to UN Secretary General António Guterres and said: “We discussed UN support for the transition process in Mali and I reiterated the need for partners to respect the sovereignty of Mali.”

Ivorian officials say the soldiers were deployed as part of a security and logistics support contract signed with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali in July 2019. They asked the public to keep calm and said that “all measures are being taken to obtain the rapid release of our brave and valiant soldiers”.

Sourcing soldiers

National support elements are personnel deployed by contributing countries on rotation in support of their contingents – a common practice for UN missions.

In a statement on Twitter, Olivier Salgado, spokesperson for the UN mission in Mali, supported the Ivorian claims. On 11 July, he said: “The soldiers arrested yesterday at #Bamako airport are not part of one of the #MINUSMA contingents. These soldiers have been deployed for several years in #Mali as part of logistical support for one of our contingents.”

Salgado also stated the soldier’s arrival was communicated to the Malian authorities beforehand.

Regional tensions

Analysts say that the arrest of Ivorian soldiers in Mali may worsen tensions between Mali and other West African countries, as jihadist attacks have spilled into neighbouring countries. The violence has led to the death of thousands of people and the displacement of millions of people across the Sahel.

Mali’s international partners have criticised Goita’s junta for failing to hold previously promised elections after a coup in May 2021 included  the arrest of interim president Bah Ndaw and interim prime minister Moctar Ouane. The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States suspended Mali as a member due to the coup.

In June 2022, the military rulers signed a decree for a 24-month extension to the transitional period, much to the dismay of ECOWAS, which continues to engage the government in negotiations.

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