Bamako — Mali’s military government has called Ivory Coast’s request for a regional meeting on Ivorian troops detained in Mali since July “intimidation” and “blackmail.” Ivory Coast accuses Mali of holding its troops hostage.
The Mali government’s official statement says that it is “in no way concerned by” Ivory Coast’s request to hold a meeting with regional bloc ECOWAS over the detained troops.
The statement was read on state television station ORTM by government spokesperson and interim Prime Minister Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga, and posted to the station’s Facebook page.
Maiga said the transitional government, while reiterating its attachment to peace, security and age-old good neighborly relations, specifies that for the respect of its sovereignty, its national security, and the interests of its people, it will yield to neither blackmail nor intimidation.
Ivory Coast’s National Security Council published a statement Wednesday requesting an ECOWAS meeting and accusing Mali of taking the soldiers hostage.
The 49 soldiers from Ivory Coast arrived at the Bamako airport in July as support for a U.N. contingent. Mali arrested the soldiers, accusing them of being “mercenaries.”
Olivier Salgado, former spokesperson for the U.N. mission to Mali, MINUSMA, was expelled from the country after he tweeted that the U.N. had notified Mali of the soldiers’ arrival.
Mali’s military government maintained in Thursday’s statement that the troops “arrived in Mali in possession of weapons and munitions of war, without a mission order or authorization, while concealing their identities and their real professions as well as the precise purpose of their presence on Malian soil.”
Three female soldiers were freed earlier this month, leaving 46 troops still in custody.
Malian interim President Assimi Goita said last week that Malian political figures fleeing persecution by the military government have been given asylum in Ivory Coast, and that he was seeking a “mutually beneficial” solution to the diplomatic crisis.
Tensions between Mali and ECOWAS have been high this year, with ECOWAS imposing sanctions on Mali in January over an election delay. Sanctions were lifted in July when Mali set an election date for 2024.
France backed the sanctions, and in August withdrew all of its troops after almost a decade over concerns that Mali is working with Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group.