By John Ikani
Mali’s transitional authorities have received a delegation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for talks on the fate of 46 Ivorian soldiers detained in the country since 10 July.
Heritage Times HT had earlier reported that the soldiers were arrested in Mali in July at the country’s main international airport in the capital Bamako.
Mali’s military government accused the troops of arriving the country without permission, saying some of their passports indicated non-military professions, and that they gave differing versions of their mandate.
The junta said the soldiers would be considered mercenaries and charged as such, alleging that Ivorian authorities were unaware of their arrival.
But Ivory Coast insists that the soldiers were deployed as part of a security and logistics support contract signed with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali in July 2019, and it demanded their immediate release.
Mali’s military leader Col Assimi Goïta welcomed the ECOWAS leaders as they arrived at the Modibo Keita International Airport in Bamako on Thursday, according to the Malian Presidency on Facebook.
The delegation comprises Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, his Gambian counterpart Adama Barrow, Togolese Minister of Foreign Affairs Robert Dussey and mediator for Mali Goodluck Jonathan.
The military-led government had postponed the arrival of the ECOWAS delegation to Thursday, citing “calendar constraints”. They had been due to arrive two days earlier.
Senegalese President Macky Sall and his Togolese counterpart, Faure Gnassingbe, were to be part of the delegation announced last Thursday, during an extraordinary ECOWAS session the same day in New York, on the side-lines of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
ECOWAS chairperson Umaro Sissoco Embalo had hinted at fresh sanctions for Mali if it continued to detain the 46 Ivorian soldiers.
Mali’s Foreign Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, said his country would not obey any order on the detention of the soldiers, accused of being mercenaries.