Why are 46 Ivorian soldiers detained in Mali?

Why are 46 Ivorian soldiers detained in Mali?

The trial of the 46 Ivorian soldiers detained in Mali since July 2022 opened on December 29 at the Bamako Court of Appeal. The first day of the trial was held behind closed doors and under close surveillance by the security forces. Nothing filtered from the exchanges in the courtroom. The debates must continue this December 30.

This trial comes before the ultimatum set for January 1, 2023 by West African heads of state to the Malian junta to release the 46 soldiers and a week after the Ivorian Minister of Defense assured that the case was “in the process of being resolved“after an official visit to Bamako.

In the judgment of referral to the Court of Assizes, it is explained by the menu why each of the Ivorian soldiers must answer well before the Malian justice of “association of criminals, attack and conspiracy against the government, threat to the external security of the State, possession, carrying and transport of arms and ammunition for war and defense intentionally in relation to an individual and collective enterprise aimed at seriously disturb public order by intimidation or terror and complicity“.

Why were they arrested?

The arrest of the 49 soldiers dates back to July 10, 2022, at Bamako airport. Qualified as “mercenaries“by the Malian authorities, they will be charged in mid-August 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. However, the Malian authorities present them as “mercenaries“came to attack the security of the State.

It appears that certain measures were not followed and the Mission is trying to better understand how these malfunctions could have occurred in order to prevent them from happening again in the future.“, declares the Minusma on July 26, 2022. However, Mali is in a standoff with Côte d’Ivoire and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) over the release of these soldiers. Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé is mediating between the two parties in this crisis. On July 28, 2022, he received “separately” a Malian delegation and an Ivorian delegation in Lomé. No official press release was published by the authorities on this meeting.

Three servicewomen will be released at the end of August for “humanitarian reasons“following Togolese mediation, Lomé being very involved in this eminently political affair. They are now 46, born between 1972 for the oldest and 1999 for the youngest. Men belonging to the Ivorian special forces, for most of them.

Who is asking for their release?

The Ivorian authorities have constantly demanded their release. This request was supported by West African heads of state at the ECOWAS summit on December 5, 2022.

During the ECOWAS summit in New York on September 21, 2022, Bissau-Guinean President Umaro Sissoco Embalo, then current president of ECOWAS, said he was in favor of the release of the solats. “I don’t think they are mercenaries“, he said, echoing remarks made on Sunday by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

The UN secretariat calls for the “immediate release” of the 46 soldiers, in a press release published on September 26. It “strongly supports all efforts to facilitate this release as well as the restoration of confidence and the promotion of good neighborliness between the two countries“, adds the press release. It underlines its “deep appreciation of the contribution of Côte d’Ivoire to UN peacekeeping operations and Minusma (United Nations mission in Mali, editor’s note) in particular”.

On September 28, the French Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin affirms during a visit to Abidjan, that Paris is “unworthy“by the fate of the 46 Ivorian soldiers. He describes the situation as “hostage-taking“.”Our support is total with the government of Côte d’Ivoire for these soldiers who are now imprisoned“, he said after a meeting with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.

What was done to free them?

Several mediation missions have taken place to try to find a solution. On September 29, a high-level mission sent to Mali by ECOWAS met the head of the junta, Colonel Assimi Goïta, to try to resolve this diplomatic crisis. Shortly before receiving this mission, the Malian junta had warned that it would not let a solution be imposed on itself. “We will listen to them (…) But if it is to impose decisions on Mali, it will not pass“, said Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop earlier.

On December 22, an official Ivorian delegation met the Malian authorities in an atmosphere “brotherly“and the Ivorian Minister of Defense assured that the case was”in the process of being resolved“.”After the investigation of the case by the military justice, we enrolled him for referral to a special judgment without a public hearing.“, explains a substitute of the Bamako Court of Appeal. “What should be remembered is that the Bamako Court of Appeal will try the 46 Ivorian soldiers arrested on July 10, 2022 at Bamako airport with weapons“, he added.

The information was confirmed by a lawyer for the Ivorian military. A source within the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also assured “have observer status at the trial of the 46 which opens today (December 29) at the Bamako Court of Appeal.

At the beginning of December in Abuja, the West African leaders meeting in summit without Mali, had demanded that the 46 Ivorian soldiers be released before January 1st. Otherwise, ECOWAS will take sanctions. Omar Touray, president of ECOWAS also declared that ECOWAS reserves the possibility of acting if the soldiers do not regain their freedom before January 1st.