Ivorian President vows to return soldiers held in Mali

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The 46 Ivorian soldiers detained in Mali for nearly six months and who have just been sentenced to twenty years in prison in Bamako, “will soon return to Ivorian soil”, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara assured.

“My thoughts are particularly with our soldiers detained in Mali since 10 July,” Ouattara said in his end-of-year speech broadcast.

“Thanks to diplomatic actions undertaken with the support of leaders of several friendly countries, including the president of the Togolese Republic” Faure Gnassingbé, “three female soldiers were released last September,” he recalled, adding that “The 46 other soldiers will soon return to Ivorian soil”.

The 46 Ivorian soldiers suspected of being “mercenaries” held in Mali since July were sentenced on Friday to 20 years in prison, before the expiry of the ultimatum set by West African heads of state to the Malian junta to release them.

They were found guilty of “attacking and plotting against the government”, “undermining the external security of the state”, “possession, carrying and transporting weapons and munitions of war (…) with the aim of disturbing public order through intimidation or terror”, at the end of a two-day trial in Bamako.

The three female soldiers released in mid-September were sentenced to death in absentia.

The Ivorian head of state did not mention either these heavy sentences or this ultimatum in his speech.

Since 10 July, Côte d’Ivoire has been demanding the release of its soldiers, categorically denying that they were “mercenaries”, but that they were on a mission for the UN, as part of logistical support operations for the United Nations Mission in Mali (UNMIS)

On 22nd December, a visit to Bamako by an official Ivorian delegation took place in a “fraternal” spirit.

It ended with the signing of a memorandum, with the Ivorian Minister of Defence, Téné Birahima Ouattara, brother of the Head of State, stressing that the matter was “on the way to resolution”.

The agreement reached between Mali and Ivory Coast leaves open the possibility of a presidential pardon for the head of the Malian military junta, Assimi Goïta, who did not mention the Ivorian soldiers in his end-of-year speech.


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