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Mali Arrests UN-Deployed Ivorian Soldiers

FILE - Policemen of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) patrol in front on the Great Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali, 12.8.2021

Nearly 50 Ivory Coast soldiers were arrested by Malian authorities after traveling to work for a contractor hired by the UN mission in Mali. The government referred to the detainees as "mercenaries," heightening tensions between the two West African countries.

Two aircraft arrived at Mali’s international airport Sunday with the 49 soldiers “with their weapons and ammunition of war, as well as other military equipment,” said Malian government spokesman Col. Abdoulaye Maiga. They “were illegally on the national territory of Mali,” and the transitional government considers them mercenaries, he added.

Mali Detains 49 Ivorian Soldiers, Calls Them ‘Mercenaries'
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The Ivorian troops “are not part of one of the MINUSMA contingents, but have been deployed for several years in Mali as part of logistical support on behalf of one of our contingents.” said UN mission spokesperson Olivier Salgado. He added that the soldiers are working for the Sahelian Aviation Services, a private company contracted by the U.N.

The government intends to put an end to the protection activity of the Sahelian Aviation Services by foreign forces and demand their departure from Malian territory, according Maiga. The government invited “the airline" Sahelian Aviation Services “to henceforth entrust its security to the Malian defense and security forces,” Maiga said.

Mali’s transitional government affirmed in June that it would not authorize the U.N. mission to investigate ongoing human rights violations in the country, including an incident at a small village where the Malian army is accused by rights groups of killing more than 300 civilians in April.

International tensions are also mounting as France has also announced the withdrawal of its forces deployed there nearly a decade ago to help fight extremist rebels.