Bamako – Mali has linked the return of political dissidents living in the Ivory Coast with the release of 46 detained Ivorian soldiers, in a case that has fuelled tensions between the two countries.
The soldiers were arrested after they arrived at Bamako airport in July, with Mali accusing them of being mercenaries.
Ivory Coast says they were unfairly detained after being sent to provide backup for the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA.
Malian prosecutors have since charged them with alleged conspiracy and attempting to harm state security, and remanded them in custody. Three female soldiers have been released.
The ruling junta had previously insisted the detained troops should face a trial – but on Friday the head of the junta appeared to link the extradition of Malian dissidents with releasing the soldiers.
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Colonel Assimi Goita said even though the Ivory Coast asks for the soldiers’ release, it “continues to serve as a political asylum for certain Malian figures who are the subject of international arrest warrants issued by the courts”.
He called for “a lasting solution as opposed to a one-way solution that would consist of acceding to the Ivorian request without compensation for Mali”.
Goita made the comments in a meeting with the Nigerian foreign minister on Friday, according to a statement posted on social media.
Malians in the Ivory Coast include Karim Keita – son of former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita overthrown by the junta in 2020 – and Tieman Hubert Coulibaly, defence and foreign affairs minister under Keita.
Mali has been dominated by the military since an August 2020 coup following mass protests over the handling of a long-running and bloody jihadist insurgency.
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