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Ivory Coast asks Mali to release its detained soldiers

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Ivory Coast on Tuesday called on Mali to release 49 of its soldiers “unjustly” detained at Bamako airport and accused by officials there of being mercenaries.

None of the Ivorian soldiers detained were carrying weapons of war, said a statement from the Ivorian president’s office after an emergency meeting of the National Security Council.

Mali on Monday had said the troops from the Ivory Coast were armed and “mercenaries”, having detained them on arrival.

The Ivorian authorities have insisted the soldiers had arrived to join MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping force in Mali.

“These are not UN peacekeeping troops, so they’re not part of MINUSMA formally,” Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the UN Secretary General, said Tuesday.

But they were part of the national support elements deployed by the contributing countries to back up their contingents, he added. “That’s a common practice in peacekeeping missions.”

Mali’s government has said its foreign ministry was not informed via official channels, denouncing a “flagrant violation” of the penal code relating to territorial integrity.

The incident takes place against a backdrop of tensions in Mali, one of the poorest and most unstable countries in Africa.

Colonels angry at the government’s handling of a long-running jihadist insurgency seized power in August 2020 and carried out another coup in May the following year.

The military junta has adopted a timetable allowing a return to civilian rule in 2024.