Pretoria – Ivory Coast’s president on Friday dismissed any suggestion that his country sought to destabilise Mali, after a group of Ivorian soldiers were detained there and accused of being mercenaries.
Speaking during an official visit to South Africa, President Alassane Ouattara also voiced hopes for a rapid solution of the dispute, which has strained relations between the two West African countries.
“Ivory Coast cannot get involved in any attempt to destabilise any country and especially a neighbouring country,” he told a press briefing in Pretoria.
“For us there is no question of getting involved in any attempt at destabilisation,” he reiterated, adding, “Everyone regrets this situation.”
Forty-nine Ivorian soldiers were detained after their arrival at Bamako airport on July 10.
Mali has labelled them “mercenaries,” but Ivory Coast says they were sent to provide backup duties for the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.
A UN spokesperson has said that while they were not UN peacekeeping troops as such, they were part of “national support elements” routinely deployed by contributing countries.
Mali is struggling with a long-running jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
It is also in the grip of political turbulence after colonels angry at the government’s handling of the insurgency seized power in August 2020.
Their takeover triggered a long standoff with the regional bloc ECOWAS, of which Ivory Coast is a member, over a timetable for restoring civilian rule.