Troops freed by Mali return to Ivory Coast

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Goita on August 19, 2021.
Image: Voice of America.

On Saturday, 46 Ivorian troops, freed after six months' detention in Mali on mercenary charges, returned to the Ivorian capital of Abidjan a day after their pardon. The soldiers were detained since July on charges of 'undermining state security' in the Malian capital Bamako, sparking a row between the neighbouring countries. The Ivory Coast has argued the troops were there as part of a UN mission to fight militant Islamists.

Their pardon by Mali's military leader Assimi Goïta followed an Ivorian delegation travelling to Mali and mediation by Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe. The Malian government thanked Gnassingbe for his involvement.

Mali's relations with other West African countries were strained after a military coup d'état toppled elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in August 2020. Abidjan has been a vocal critic of the coup.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), of which the Ivory Coast is a member, had proposed new sanctions to begin January 1 if the troops were not freed.

ECOWAS previously levied punitive sanctions against Mali after Goïta delayed elections promised in February 2021 by four years. They were lifted in July 2022 after Malian leaders proposed a two-year transition to democracy.

Relations with Western powers have also become strained as Mali has strengthened ties with Russia to fight militant Islamists active across the region. France formally ended its operation to fight insurgents in the Sahel in November 2022. The UK has also announced the withdrawal of troops from Mali.