The current president of the West African states (ECOWAS) assured on Wednesday that there would be no sanctions against Mali in the immediate future despite their ultimatum, to let the Togolese mediation work for the release of the 46 Ivorian soldiers held in Mali since July.
The 46 Ivorian soldiers, suspected by Bamako of being "mercenaries", were sentenced on December 30 to 20 years in prison, before the expiration of the ultimatum set by the West African heads of state to the Malian junta to release them.
They were found guilty of "attack and conspiracy against the government," "undermining the external security of the state," and "possession, carrying and transporting weapons and munitions of war (...) with the aim of disturbing public order through intimidation or terror," at the end of a two-day trial in Bamako.
Umaro Sissoco Embalo, current chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Guinea-Bissau head of state, said Wednesday that "there will be no sanctions against Mali in the immediate future", during a meeting with the press in Bissau.
"We have given time to (allow) the Togolese mediation to do its job, in order to solve the problem. It is just a matter of common sense," he added.
- presidential pardon" -
Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé was meanwhile visiting Bamako. "He pleaded for a presidential pardon," an official of the Malian presidency assured AFP.
A source close to the Ivorian presidency told AFP that he was expected in Abidjan after his visit to Mali.
No official communication on the content of the discussions of the two heads of state had been released late Wednesday afternoon, the Togolese presidency said in a statement that "cooperation between Togo and Mali, as well as regional issues of common interest" would be at the heart of the face-to-face meeting between the two leaders.
In his New Year's speech, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara promised that the incarcerated soldiers "will soon return to Ivorian soil.
- "Diplomatic way" -
"We must trust the head of state," said Amadou Coulibaly, spokesman for the Ivorian government, on Wednesday after the Council of Ministers. "Côte d'Ivoire has chosen a path, that of negotiation, it is the diplomatic path, we remain resolutely committed to this path," he added.
On the convictions of Ivorian soldiers, he said: "We never comment on court decisions taken in Côte d'Ivoire, there is no reason for us to comment on court decisions taken abroad.
Since July 10, Côte d'Ivoire has demanded the release of its soldiers, categorically denying that they were "mercenaries", claiming that they were on a mission for the UN, as part of logistical support operations for the United Nations Mission in Mali (Minusma).
On December 22, an official Ivorian delegation visited Bamako in the presence of the Togolese foreign minister in a "fraternal" spirit. It ended with the signing of a memorandum, with the Ivorian Minister of Defense, Téné Birahima Ouattara, brother of the Head of State, emphasizing that the matter was "in the process of being resolved.
The agreement reached between Mali and Ivory Coast leaves open the possibility of a presidential pardon for the head of the Malian military junta, Assimi Goïta, who did not mention the Ivorian soldiers in his end-of-year speech on Saturday.