Mali – Côte d’Ivoire tensions: What is really going on?

David Kipre

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The surprise arrival of 49 Ivorian soldiers on Malian territory has raised many questions in the country. The 49 soldiers were questioned and then arrested at the airport in Bamako (Mali) by the ruling junta. The conflict arose when the Malian government accused the 49 soldiers of being “mercenaries” sent to disrupt “order” in the country. Côte d’Ivoire demanded the immediate release of its soldiers, and Mali refused. What are the real tensions between these two countries, and who are the 49 arrested soldiers?

1- “Mercenaries” according to Mali

During the night of July 10 at the airport in Bamako, the 49 soldiers were arrested for verification. These checks, according to the Malian government, showed that these soldiers did not have a mission order or authorization to travel to Mali, and are therefore suspected of being “mercenaries.

As soon as they were arrested, Côte d’Ivoire demanded their immediate release on the pretext that “no Ivorian soldier in this contingent was in possession of weapons and munitions of war.” “Côte d’Ivoire, which has always worked within sub-regional, regional and international bodies, for peace, stability, and respect for the rule of law, cannot be part of a logic of destabilization of a third country,” defends the Ivorian government.

“It has been established that the forty-nine Ivorian soldiers were illegally on the national territory of Mali (…) in possession of weapons and munitions of war, without a mission order or authorization.”

Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga, the Malian government spokesman, in a statement on July 11, 2022

2- Forces providing logistical support to MINUSMA

Malian authorities claim that there was a “flagrant violation” of the penal code, “criminalizing attacks on the external security of the State, including attacks on the integrity of the territory.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs had not been informed through official channels of the arrival of the Ivorian soldiers.

The Ivory Coast claims that these are elements of “national support” intervening in support of the UN mission in Mali, and that their presence was well known in Mali.

There is a base, the Sahel Aviation Service ( SAS ) at Bamako airport, which Abidjan says also hosts foreign military personnel. A memorandum signed in 2019 with the UN, provides for the movement of such a contingent in Mali. There should therefore be no conflict with the arrival of the military on their territory.

3-Diplomatic friction?

It is clear that the Ivory Coast does not want to clash with Mali. However, the agreements aim to reach an amicable agreement in order to free the 49 soldiers.

So far, there is no evidence that Mali is releasing the 49 soldiers at the request of Côte d’Ivoire, which is why tensions are still high between the two states.  

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