A court in Mali's capital Bamako on Monday ended a much-delayed trial of former coup leader Amadou Sanogo, who was accused of killing 21 elite soldiers in a 2012 putsch.
The court, which did not issue a verdict, also ended proceedings against 15 other defendants, citing a 2019 reconciliation law offering amnesty or pardon for specific crimes committed during the 2012 crisis.
"The court orders that the proceedings against the defendants be terminated," court president Gaoussou Sanou said, adding that the defendants should be released.
Unless the prosecution decides to appeal, the decision puts to rest a case that has long embarrassed Mali's government.
There were fears that a conviction of Sanogo would trigger dissent within army ranks. A former Malian defence minister was also among the defendants.
Sanogo, a former army captain, joined with several other plotters in staging a coup against President Amadou Toumani Toure after an insurgency erupted in northern Mali.
But his junta stepped aside under international pressure after a string of northern cities, including Timbuktu, fell to the rebels.
Jihadists have since commandeered the northern rebellion and advanced into central Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, killing thousands.
Sanogo, for his part, was later arrested and then held for six years on charges of killing 21 elite "Red Berets" who sought to mount a counter coup.
The court's decision not to charge Sanogo will anger rights defenders in Mali, where armed forces are often accused of abuses.
"A law of national accord cannot be invoked to ensure impunity," said Aguibou Bouare, the president of a Malian rights NGO, speaking before the decision.
"People will not hesitate to commit crimes and horrible offences and then fix it by passing a law."
A case against Sanogo began in 2016 but stalled.
A court then granted Sanogo temporary release last year, sparking fears among rights defenders and relatives of the dead soldiers that he would avoid facing trial.
Hopes for his conviction then were raised last month when lawyers said that a court would convene to hear the long-delayed case. It began last Thursday before being stopped on Monday.
Mali's government is itself staffed by army figures who in August launched the most recent coup in country.
Young army officers seized power after weeks of protests against president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, before handing over to an interim government which is meant to govern for 18 months before staging elections.
Coup leader Colonel Assimi Goita is serving as interim vice president, for example.
Some senior members of interim government also took part in 2012 coup.