Abidjan denounces “unacceptable blackmail” and calls for a West African summit

New episode in the diplomatic crisis which opposes the two countries since the beginning of July. Côte d’Ivoire qualified, on Wednesday 14 September, as “unacceptable blackmail” Mali’s demands in exchange for the release of its forty-six soldiers detained in Bamako for two months.

This is the first official reaction from Côte d’Ivoire since the declarations of the junta in power in Bamako which, on Friday, conditioned the release of the soldiers on the extradition of Malian personalities living in Abidjan. “The National Security Council [CNS] considers this blackmail to be unacceptable and demands the immediate release of our forty-six soldiers”announces a press release from this institution chaired by the Ivorian head of state, Alassane Ouattara. ” This application [malienne] confirms once again the fact that our soldiers are in no way mercenaries but rather hostages”continues the text.

“In view of the latest developments which are likely to undermine peace and security in the sub-region”Côte d’Ivoire also wished, on Wednesday, the holding “as soon as possible an extraordinary meeting of Heads of State and Government” of the Community of West African States (ECOWAS). If, between now and this eventual summit, “Nothing can be settled through diplomatic channels, ECOWAS will be forced to take sanctions”had predicted, Sunday, a source close to the Ivorian presidency to Agence France-Presse.

Read also: In Mali, the indictment of 49 Ivorian soldiers complicates negotiations with Abidjan

“Misunderstandings”

On July 10, forty-nine Ivorian soldiers were arrested in Mali, presented as “mercenaries”then charged in mid-August with “Attempt to attack 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).

At the beginning of September, however, the release of three women out of the forty-nine soldiers detained, “a humanitarian gesture” of Mali and ” a good sign “ according to Abidjan, had raised hopes that the situation would be resolved. “Several contacts with Malian officials subsequently led to the conclusion that misunderstandings and shortcomings were the cause of the arrest of our soldiers”underlines the press release of the CNS.

But a few days later, the head of the ruling junta in Mali, Colonel Assimi Goïta, spoke of the need “counterpart”referring to the extradition of Malian personalities living in Abidjan. “These personalities benefit from the protection of Côte d’Ivoire to destabilize Mali”, he insisted. He was referring 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.

Charges swept away on Wednesday by Côte d’Ivoire, which claims to be “a country committed to peace, stability and respect for the rule of law in the sub-region”. Several mediations are underway, including those of the Togolese President, Faure Gnassingbé, and Malian religious leaders, to obtain the release of the forty-six soldiers still prisoners.

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.

Read also Case of the 49 Ivorian soldiers detained in Mali: an Ivorian activist imprisoned after a visit to Bamako

The World with AFP

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