Col. Assimi Goita, Mali’s transitional president, has pardoned 49 Ivorian soldiers convicted of conspiracy and undermining state security, a government spokesman said late Friday.
Three who were women were later released, while 46 soldiers were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on Dec. 30. The three released women were sentenced to death in absentia.
They were arrested last July at the airport in Mali’s capital Bamako, and Malian authorities accused them of being mercenaries, while Ivory Coast said they were part of a UN peacekeeping mission. The soldiers’ arrest had led to a diplomatic dispute.
Spokesman Col. Abdoulaye Maiga said in a statement that the measure follows the signing on Dec. 22 a memorandum on the “promotion of peace and the strengthening of relations of friendship, brotherhood and good neighborliness” between the two countries.
The statement described the move as “completely independent decision,” emphasizing the president’s commitment to “peace, dialogue, pan-Africanism” and the “preservation of fraternal” relations with countries in the West Africa region.
West Africa’s main political and economic bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which already had strained relations with Mali, had threatened more sanctions if the Ivorian soldiers were not freed.