Mali Detains Ivorian Soldiers, Accuses Them of Being Mercenaries

The UN's peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) on patrol (file photo).

Malian authorities have arrested 49 soldiers from Cote d'Ivoire, describing them as mercenaries who were planning to stop the protection and reform of the country.

Two planes arrived at Mali's international airport Sunday with the 49 soldiers and "their weapons and ammunition of war, as well as other military equipment," Malian government spokesperson Abdoulaye Maiga said in a statement read on state television on Monday.

He said the soldiers had no mission order or authorisation and "were illegally on the national territory of Mali," with the "dark aim" of stopping Mali's return to a constitutional order.

The military junta running the country since taking over in August 2020 has adopted a timetable to allow for a return to civilian rule in 2024.

Who are the soldiers?

The United Nations' peacekeeping mission in Mali, Minusma, said it believed the Ivorian troops were part of a unit that provided routine logistical support to its Ivorian military contingent.

Minusma spokesperson Olivier Salgado said the Ivorian soldiers were not part of mission's main contingent, but were deployed "as part of logistical support on behalf of one of our contingents".

He said Malian authorities would have been notified in advance about the troops' arrival, but the Malian government said its foreign ministry had not been informed via official channels.

The Malian government said the soldiers, who are being held at a gendarmerie school in the capital, Bamako, provided different reasons for their presence in the country, including carrying out a "confidential mission" and the protection of Germany's Minusma contingent.

An Ivorian diplomat told the AFP new agency that some of the soldiers came to Mali to work for a German company contracted by the UN mission, called Sahelian Aviation Service (SAS).

Maiga said the government had decided to immediately end any foreign force activity with SAS, and demanded their departure from Mali.

The government invited "the airline " Sahelian Aviation Services "to henceforth entrust its security to the Malian defense and security forces," he said.

Mercenary accusations

Mali's accusing the Ivorian soldiers of being mercenaries follows France and other countries calling Russian military personnel working with the Malian government mercenaries.

Mali has refused French air support for Minusma's mission as the UN Security Council extended it for 12 months at the end of June.

Mali also affirmed it wlll not authorise the UN mission to investigate ongoing human rights violations in the country.

(with wires)

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