Mali escapes sanctions over detention of 46 Ivorian soldiers

 West African leaders will not go through with a threat to sanction Mali for jailing 46 Ivorian soldiers, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said on Wednesday, preferring to give time for Togo’s mediation in the diplo­matic spat to bear fruit.

Malian authorities detained the Ivorian troops after they arrived at Bamako airport on July 10 to pro­vide backup security for a United Nations peacekeeping mission, accusing them of being “merce­naries”.

The move sparked diplomatic tensions between Bamako and Abidjan, which has decided not to replace its military contingent with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) when the current group rotates out in August.

Regional bloc ECOWAS gave Mali a deadline of January 1 to free the troops or face sanctions.

Nevertheless, a Malian court last month sentenced the troops to 20 years in prison.

Guinea-Bissau’s President Uma­ro Sissoco Embalo, the current head of ECOWAS, told journalists on Wednesday that “there will be no immediate sanctions against Mali”.

“We have given time for Togo­lese mediators to do their job, in order to resolve the situation. It’s just a matter of common sense,” he said.

Togolese President Faure Gnass­ingbe paid a “friendly working visit” to Bamako on Wednesday, the Malian presidency said in a statement.

An official at the Malian pres­idency, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that Gnass­ingbe had called for a “presidential pardon” for the troops during his meeting with Malian coup leader Assimi Goita.

Of the 49 soldiers who were initially arrested, three women were freed, however, the court sen­tenced them to death in absentia in its December 30 ruling.

The troops were found guilty of an “attack and conspiracy against the government” and seeking to undermine state security, public prosecutor Ladji Sara said in a statement last month.

In his New Year’s address, Ivo­rian President Alassane Ouattara promised that the imprisoned sol­diers “will soon return to Ivorian soil”.

“We must trust the head of state,” Ivorian government spokes­man Amadou Coulibaly said after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.


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