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Ivorian Troops Face Mali Trial

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FILE - Ivory Coast officials address the relatives of the 49 Ivorian soldiers detained in Mali, in Abidjan, Aug. 3, 2022.

UPDATED WITH START OF TRIAL: Forty-six Ivorian troops whose detention by Mali triggered a bitter diplomatic row were brought in for trial at a court of appeal in Bamako on Thursday.

The soldiers are undergoing a "special trial" after the case was submitted by military investigators, the court official said.

"The Bamako court of appeal is trying the 46 Ivorian soldiers who were arrested with weapons at Bamako airport on July 10."

Those soldiers, branded by Mali's junta as "mercenaries", were charged the following month with seeking to undermine state security.

The session will not be open to the public, the official added.

An attorney for the Ivorian soldiers confirmed this account, while a source for the International Committee of the Red Cross said the ICRC would attend proceedings with observer status.

Ivory Coast and the UN say the troops were flown in to provide routine backup security for the German contingent of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.

As the row escalated in November, Ivory Coast said it would withdraw its troops from a UN force that is helping the country in a 10-year-old fight against jihadists.

No reason was given for the withdrawal of the troops, which would take place by August 2023, in a letter to the UN's MINUSMA mission seen by AFP.

On December 4, a summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) set New Year's Day as a deadline for the soldiers' release, failing which the bloc would impose new sanctions against Mali.

Relations between ECOWAS and Mali have been strained since elected president Ibrahim Boubar Keita was toppled in August 2020 by officers angered at failures to roll back a jihadist insurgency.

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