Ivory Coast has asked the Malian transitional authorities “without delay” to release the 49 Ivorian soldiers held since Sunday 10 July and considered as mercenaries by Bamako. According to Abidjan, these men moved within the framework of the Minusma.
While Bamako has just been released by ecowas on 3 July, a diplomatic incident with unclear contours risks plunging the region back into instability. Indeed, after the arrest of 49 Ivorian soldiers on Malian soil, Abidjan rose to the occasion on Tuesday to demand from Bamako the immediate release of its detained soldiers, arguing that they do not have in their possession any weapon or munitions of war. Ouattara’s country also claims to have no intention of destabilising its neighbour.
“No Ivorian soldier of this contingent was in possession of weapons and ammunition of war,” said a statement from the Ivorian presidency issued after an extraordinary National Security Council (CNS) on Tuesday 12 July in Abidjan.
The text also adds that “Ivory Coast, which has always worked within sub-regional, regional and international bodies for peace, stability and respect for the rule of law, cannot be part of a logic of destabilisation of a third country.
On Monday evening, Bamako claimed that these soldiers have no authorisation to enter its territory, that their real mission remains unknown and that the Ivorian authorities were unaware of their presence in Mali, and consequently described them as mercenaries.
But according to the statement issued in Abidjan on Tuesday, the presence of its soldiers is part of logistical support operations for the UN mission in Mali (Minusma), and is “well known to the Malian authorities.
In addition, since July 2019, Ivorian soldiers have been present at Bamako airport as part of the signing of an agreement with the UN.
According to the Ivorian authorities, “Since that date, 7 contingents have periodically taken turns on this site, without any difficulty,
According to UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, the soldiers arrested were not “formally part of UNMIS” but were “National Support Elements (NSE)”, i.e. personnel deployed by troop-contributing countries “in support of their contingents”.