The day after their pardon by Mali, 46 Ivorian soldiers expected in Abidjan

Forty-six Ivorian soldiers detained in Mali for nearly six months and sentenced to 20 years in prison were expected in Abidjan on Saturday the day after the pardon granted to them by the head of the Malian junta Assimi Goïta.

The release of these soldiers, accused by Mali of being “mercenaries” who had come to destabilize it and arrested on July 10, 2022 at Bamako airport, was demanded from the start by Côte d’Ivoire, which has always maintained that they were on a mission for the UN.

This affair caused great tension between two “brother countries” and neighbors with already complicated relations: Mali had accused Côte d’Ivoire of having incited its West African partners to toughen the sanctions against the soldiers who carried out two attacks. State, in August 2020 then in May 2021, sanctions finally lifted in early July.

“They are expected this afternoon,” a source close to the Ivorian presidency told AFP, confirmed by a military source. They did not specify the arrival time of the pardoned soldiers on Friday evening.

Before their return to Abidjan, the 46 soldiers must pass through Lomé where Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé will officially hand them over to the Ivorian Defense Minister, Téné Birahima Ouattara, who will bring them back to their country.

President Gnassingbé, who “rejoiced” in a tweet at the pardon granted to the soldiers, played a decisive role as mediator with a view to obtaining their release and both the Malian and Ivorian authorities paid tribute to his mediation.

In Abidjan, the soldiers will be welcomed at the presidential pavilion at the airport “in the presence of the highest authorities”, according to the presidency, among which should be the head of state himself, Alassane Ouattara.

They were sentenced on December 30 to 20 years’ imprisonment by a court in Bamako, three female soldiers released in mid-September having been sentenced to death in absentia.

All had been declared guilty of “attack and conspiracy against the government”, “undermining the external security of the State”, “possession, carrying and transport of weapons and munitions of war (…) with the aim of to disturb public order by intimidation or terror”.

– “Phew of relief” –

On Friday evening, the Malian government announced that the transitional president, Colonel Assimi Goïta, had “granted his pardon with full remission of sentences to the 49 Ivorians convicted by Malian justice”.

Since their arrest, Côte d’Ivoire has demanded the release of its soldiers, categorically denying that they were “mercenaries”, but ensuring that they were on a mission for the UN, as part of logistical support operations. to the United Nations Mission in Mali (Minusma). She called them “hostages”.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had given Mali until January 1 to release the soldiers under penalty of new sanctions, an ultimatum not respected by Bamako.

However, “there will be no immediate sanctions against Mali”, declared on Wednesday the head of the Bissau-Guinean state, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, current president of ECOWAS.

Both in Abidjan and Bamako, this pardon was well received by those interviewed by AFP.

“It’s a joy for all, everyone should be proud and continue to trust diplomacy”, declared in Abidjan Patrick Dali, Noufo Ouattara, auto electrician, believing that we must “forgive on both sides” because “the two countries have a really strong brotherly bond and the two populations are practically the same”.

In Bamako, Zafara Ongoïba believes that “nothing beats peace”. “It’s a sigh of relief for the international community, for the sub-regional community and for all the Malian and Ivorian people,” he adds.

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