Ivory Coast advocated “normal relations” with Mali following the return of the pardoned soldiers

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Forty-six Ivorian soldiers who were recently pardoned by Mali’s military authorities arrived at Abidjan international airport on Saturday, where they were greeted by Alassane Ouattara. Ivory Coast’s president advocated for a return to “normal relations” with Mali.

Ivory Coast wants to “resume normal relations” with Mali after returning, on Saturday 7 January, to Abidjan of its 46 soldiers who had been held in Bamako for almost six months and who were pardoned on Friday by the head of Mali’s junta.

These soldiers, arrested on 10 July 2022, accused of being “mercenaries” by Mali and sentenced to 20 years in prison, returned to Abidjan a day after the clemency was granted to them by the head of the Mali junta, Assimi Goita.

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara poses with soldiers who have been pardoned by Mali and recently returned home, on January 7, 2023, at Abidjan airport. © Sia Kambou, AFP

The Ivory Coast air force plane bringing them back to their country landed shortly before midnight (local and GMT) at Abidjan airport, AFP journalists said. The soldiers, in military uniform, exited one by one, waved the small Ivory Coast flag, and were greeted off the plane by President Alassane Ouattara.

A ceremony in the presence of the soldiers, their families and the highest State and army authorities soon followed, in which Alassane Ouattara said he wanted to “resume normal relations” with Mali.

“Of course, now that this crisis has passed, we can resume normal relations with our Malian brothers, who need us and who we also need,” he said.

An army spokesman thanked the head of state and “the people of Ivory Coast for their active support and solidarity”. “We are happy and relieved to be able to return to our homeland,” he said.

Decisive mediation by President of Togo Faure Gnassingbé

The release of the soldiers was demanded from the start by Ivory Coast, which, along with the United Nations, said they should participate in the security of the German blue helmet contingent in this violence-torn Sahelian country.

The affair led to major tensions between the two “brother nations” and neighbors with already complicated relations: Mali accused Ivory Coast of instigating its West African partner to tighten sanctions against soldiers who carried out the two attacks. Countries, in August 2020 then in May 2021, sanctions were finally lifted in early July.

Mali’s rule, dominated by dissident colonels, made this affair a manifestation of sovereignty which it posited as a cardinal principle vis-à-vis France, being pushed towards the exit door nine years after the launch of its intervention against jihadist groups, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and even the UN Stabilization Mission (Minusma).

>> To read: Ivory Coast soldier detained in Mali: Alassane Ouattara faces criticism from the opposition

After leaving Bamako at around 5pm (local and GMT), the Ivorian troops passed through Lomé, where they were received by Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbé who formally handed them over to the Ivorian Defense Minister, Téné Birahima Ouattara.

President Gnassingbé, who “rejoiced” at the pardon granted to the soldiers, played a decisive role with the aim of their release and the Malian and Ivorian authorities paid tribute to his mediation.

ECOWAS has given Mali up to 1uh January to free the soldiers due to new sanctions, an ultimatum that Bamako did not honor. However, “there will be no sanctions against Mali in the near future”, said Bissau-Guinea’s head of state, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, the organization’s current president.

With AFP

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