President Alassane Ouattara maintains that soldiers were ‘unjustly’ arrested
Ivory Coast’s president called Wednesday for the “immediate” release of 46 troops from his country who were arrested in Mali in July while addressing the UN General Assembly in New York City.
The soldiers were “unjustly arrested” as they are part of Ivory Coast’s logistical contingent to support its troops deployed under the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), said Alassane Ouattara.
“My country encourages the Malian authorities to focus their efforts on the fight against terrorism,” he added.
On July 10, Mali’s transitional government arrested 49 Ivorian soldiers upon their arrival in the capital Bamako, accusing them of possessing weapons and ammunition of war “without a mission order” and considering them “mercenaries” to be prosecuted.
The military junta released three female soldiers in the group.
Last weekend, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the 46 soldiers are not mercenaries.
In July, the government said no Ivorian soldiers in the contingent were in possession of weapons and ammunition of war as alleged by the Malian authorities.
Mali’s junta leader Col. Assimi Goita has indicated that freeing the remaining troops would be tied to the extradition of Malians being sought on international warrants in Ivory Coast, a condition dismissed by Abidjan as “unacceptable blackmail.”
An extraordinary session of leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is due Thursday in New York to discuss the crisis among other issues on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Ouattara, however, reiterated Ivory Coast’s support for UN peacekeeping operations.
Ivorian soldiers are deployed in UN peacekeeping missions in Mali and the Central African Republic.