“It is a hostage-taking which will not remain without consequences. Our position is clear: this market is unacceptable“, a source close to the Ivorian presidency told AFP on Sunday.
“We always favor the diplomatic solution. We must avoid the politics of the worst“, however added this source who hopes that the Malian junta “will reconsider its position“.
An extraordinary summit of the Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is to be held next week in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, according to the same source, and should discuss the subject.
“If by then nothing is settled through diplomatic channels, ECOWAS will be obliged to take sanctions“, she predicted.
On July 10, 49 Ivorian soldiers were arrested in Mali, described as “mercenaries“, then charged in mid-August with “attempt to undermine the external security of the State” and formally imprisoned.
Abidjan assures that these soldiers were on a mission for the UN, as part of logistical support operations for the United Nations Mission in Mali (Minusma) and demands their release.
Last weekend, three female soldiers out of 49 had been released, “a humanitarian gesture” from Mali, then qualified as a “good sign” by Abidjan.
But on Friday, the leader of the ruling junta in Bamako, Colonel Assimi Goïta, spoke of necessary “consideration“, confirming reports that the extradition of Malian figures was part of the discussion on the fate of Ivorian soldiers.
At “when Côte d’Ivoire requests the release of its soldiers, (it) continues to serve as a political asylum for certain Malian personalities who are the subject of international arrest warrants issued by the courts“, said Colonel Goïta.
“These same personalities benefit from the protection of Côte d’Ivoire to destabilize Mali“, he insisted.
He refers in particular to Karim Keïta, the son of former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta overthrown by the colonels in 2020, and Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly, Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs under Mr. Keïta.
Several mediations are underway to obtain the release of the 46 soldiers still prisoners, including that of Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé and Malian religious leaders.
In this case, the UN recognized “malfunctions” in a note addressed to the Malian government and admitted that “some measures were not followed“.
Côte d’Ivoire, for its part, is committed to “rRespect the procedures of the United Nations as well as the new Malian rules and provisions enacted, relating to the deployment of military forces in Mali“.
Relations between Mali and its Ivorian neighbor have deteriorated since colonels took over by force in August 2020 the head of this country, which has been facing jihadist attacks since 2012 and plunged into a deep security and political crisis.
Bamako accuses Abidjan in particular of having encouraged its West African partners to toughen the sanctions against the Malian soldiers. The sanctions were finally lifted in early July.