March 30, 2023

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Mali’s military commander Guetta pardons 49 Ivorian soldiers | United Nations News

The mass pardon comes one week after Mali sentenced 46 Ivorian soldiers to 20 years in prison.

Mali’s military chief has pardoned 49 soldiers from neighboring Ivory Coast who were arrested in July and accused of being mercenaries, the Malian presidency said in a statement.

The 49 were arrested after arriving at Bamako airport in Mali. Ivory Coast said the soldiers were part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali and had been contracted to work for a private company contracted by the United Nations.

The soldiers’ arrests and charges against them sparked a diplomatic row between Mali and Ivory Coast.

Col. Abdoulaye Maiga, spokesman for the Malian government, said in a statement that the amnesty granted by Malian President Col. Asimi Goita “shows once again his commitment to peace, dialogue, African unity and the preservation of fraternal and secular relations with the countries of the region, particularly between Mali and Ivory Coast.”

Guetta seized power in Mali in two coups, first in 2020 and then the following year, when he took power after dismissing the president and prime minister in the transitional government.

The mass pardon comes one week after 46 Ivorian soldiers were sentenced to 20 years in prison. Three other defendants, who were released in September but were tried in absentia, were sentenced to death.

Prosecutor Ladji Sara said in a statement at the time that the 49 were found guilty of “attacking and plotting against the government” and seeking to undermine state security. The trial opened in the capital, Bamako, on December 29 and concluded the next day.

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After the Ivorian soldiers were arrested, the UN acknowledged some procedural “dysfunction” in a note to the Malian government and said that “certain procedures were not followed” in their deployment to Mali.

The Ivorian presidency had admitted in September that there were “shortcomings and misunderstandings” regarding the arrival of its soldiers in Mali.

The statement on Friday announcing the pardon described the move as an “independent decision” symbolizing the president’s commitment to good governance and “preserving brotherly relations” with countries in the region, especially Ivory Coast. It did not specify when the soldiers would leave the prison.

It was not possible to obtain comment from the Ivory Coast government. It has previously said that its soldiers are being held hostage and has made repeated calls for their release. The Ivorian authorities also warned that “hostage-taking” would lead to “consequences”.

Mali has become increasingly isolated since military officers overthrew the government in 2020 and failed to deliver on election promises, prompting sanctions from West Africa’s main political and economic bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Several countries, including Ivory Coast, decided to withdraw troops sent to help fight a decade-old uprising in Mali this year over the military government’s collaboration with Russian mercenaries.

The Economic Community of West African States, towards which the Malian government is increasingly hostile, has also threatened to impose further sanctions on the country if the Ivorian soldiers are not released.

Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe, who has been mediating the crisis, met Guetta in Bamako on Thursday before heading to Ivory Coast. In its statement on Friday, the Malian government thanked Gnassingbe “for his tireless efforts and continued commitment to dialogue and peace in the region.”

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The statement also denounced the “aggressive stance” of ECOWAS leader Umaro Sissoko Embalo.