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Ivory Coast accuses Bamako of 'hostage taking' over troops held in Mali

Soldiers of FAMA (Malian Armed Forces) stand and salute during the national anthem at the ceremony of the 60th anniversary of Mali's independence in Bamako, on Sept. 22, 2022   -  
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Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast has accused Bamako of "hostage-taking" after its neighbour laid out conditions for the release of 46 Ivorian soldiers held in Mali for two months. The issue should be a hot topic next week during an extraordinary Ecowas summit set to take place****on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

"It's a hostage-taking that will not remain without consequences," a source close to the Ivorian presidency told AFP on Sunday, adding that Ivory Coast would continue to seek a solution through "diplomatic channels".

On Friday, colonel Assimi Goïta, Mali's ruler mentionned necessary "compensation" for the advancement of the talks. "When Ivory Coast, asks for the release of its soldiers, (it) continues to serve as a political asylum for certain Malian personalities subject to international arrest warrants", Goïta said. 

Ivory Coast says the 49 troops were sent on a routine rotation for personnel who provide back-up services for the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, and has called for their release. However, the mandate of the troops remained unclear and they were accused of being merceneries.The UN acknowledged "dysfunctions" in a note addressed to the Malian government and admitted that "certain measures have not been followed".

Three women in the group were released according to an announcement earlier this month.

Karim Keïta, the son of former Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, and Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly, former minister of Defense and  Foreign affairs under Keïta could be the officials he is alluding to. 

Extraordinary summit

The arrest of the soldiers after their arrival at Bamako airport on July 10 has sparked a diplomatic crisis between Mali and its West African neighbour.

Mali's military-led government says the troops had had no orders or supporting documents and has described them as "mercenaries".

In mid-August, Malian prosecutors filed charges against all 49, including for alleged conspiracy and harm to state security. Talks to secure their release are ongoing.

Diplomatic sources close to the talks say Mali is demanding that Ivory Coast acknowledge its responsibility in the affair and express its regrets for the deployment of the soldiers.

Bamako also wants Abidjan to hand over people who have been on its territory since 2013 who are wanted in Mali, said the sources.

Ivory Coast has rejected both demands and is preparing for extended negotiations to free its men, they added.

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 a source close to the Ivorian presidency, and is expected to discuss the issue.

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