Ivory Coast asks Mali to immediately release 49 arrested soldiers
Ivory Coast on Tuesday demanded the release of 49 of its soldiers arrested in Mali, an incident that may worsen tensions between the two West African nations.
The Ivorian soldiers were arrested on Sunday at Mali's main international airport in the capital Bamako.
Mali's military government said the troops arrived without permission, that some of their passports indicated non-military professions, and that they gave differing versions of their mandate.
The junta said the soldiers would be considered mercenaries and charged as such, adding that Ivorian authorities were unaware of their arrival.
But Ivory Coast said on Tuesday 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, and it demanded their immediate release.
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.
The U.N. mission’s spokesman in Mali, Olivier Salgado, said these Ivorian soldiers are working for a German company that is contracted by the U.N. mission known as the Sahelian Aviation Services.
He said they “are not part of one of the MINUSMA contingents, but have been deployed for several years in Mali as part of logistical support on behalf of one of our contingents.”
Malian government spokesman Col. Abdoulaye Maiga said they would put an end to the protection activity of the Sahelian Aviation Services by foreign forces and demand their departure from Malian territory.