/ 6 January 2023

Mali avoids sanctions over detention of Ivorian soldiers

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West African leaders will not go through with a threat to sanction Mali for imprisoning 46 Ivorian soldiers

West African leaders will not go through with a threat to sanction Mali for imprisoning 46 Ivorian soldiers, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) said on Wednesday, adding it will give time for Togo’s mediation in the diplomatic spat to bear fruit.

Malian authorities detained the Ivorian troops after they arrived at Bamako airport on 10 July to provide backup security for a United Nations peacekeeping mission, accusing them of being “mercenaries”.

The move sparked diplomatic tensions between Bamako and Abidjan, and Ecowas gave Mali a deadline of 1  January to free the troops or face sanctions. 

A Malian court last month sentenced the troops to 20 years in prison.

Guinea-Bissau’s President Umaro Sissoco Embalo, the current head of Ecowas, told journalists on Wednesday that “there will be no immediate sanctions against Mali”.

“We have given time for Togolese mediators to do their job, in order to resolve the situation. It’s just a matter of common sense,” he said.

Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé paid a “friendly working visit” to Bamako on Wednesday, the Malian presidency said in a statement.

An official at the Malian presidency, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Gnassingbé had called for a “presidential pardon” for the troops during his meeting with Malian junta leader Assimi Goita.

Of the 49 soldiers who were initially arrested, three women were freed, but the court sentenced them to death in absentia during its 30  December ruling.

The troops were found guilty of an “attack and conspiracy against the government” and seeking to undermine state security, public prosecutor Ladji Sara said in a statement last month.

In his New Year address, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara promised that the imprisoned soldiers “will soon return to Ivorian soil”.

“We must trust the head of state,” Ivorian government spokesperson Amadou Coulibaly said after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. 

“Ivory Coast has chosen a way — that of negotiation — it is the diplomatic way, we remain resolutely committed to this path.” 

He declined to comment on the convictions of the Ivorian soldiers.

“There is no reason for us to comment on court decisions taken abroad,” he said.

Ivory Coast has denied the soldiers were mercenaries.

On 22 December, an Ivorian delegation visited Bamako to discuss the detention of the soldiers.

At the end of that visit, a memorandum was signed, and Ivorian Defence Minister Tene Birahima Ouattara said the matter was “on the way to resolution”. Goita did not mention the Ivorian soldiers in his end-of-year speech on Saturday. — AFP