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Mali Says "Move Out, Foreign Forces!"

FILE - United Nation forces patrol the streets of Timbuktu, Mali. Taken 9.26.2021

Mali has ordered a private airline to evict foreign soldiers, including UN troops, from its Bamako airport base following last month's arrest of 49 Ivorian soldiers there.

All "foreign forces" must leave the Sahel Aviation Services (SAS) base at Bamako airport "within 72 hours" as of Tuesday, the head of the Ministry of Transportation's airports division said in a letter to SAS seen by AFP.

It said the private company's "accommodation and reception" of foreign soldiers "generates risks for the internal and external security" of Mali, and was not permitted under the agreement the company signed in 2018 to use the base.

The SAS airport hub serves as a "logistical base" for several of Mali's international partners, including Ivorian soldiers as well as German, Austrian, Belgian, Swedish and Pakistani troops deployed on international missions, namely with the UN, the Ivorian military said following the detentions.

SAS did not respond to AFP's requests for comment.

The news follows the detention on July 10 of 49 Ivorian soldiers at Bamako airport, triggering a diplomatic crisis between Mali, Ivory Coast and the United Nations.

Mali called the troops "mercenaries", but Ivory Coast says they were sent to provide back-up duties for the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA.

The German defense ministry last month told AFP that Ivorian soldiers provided security at the SAS airport base.

The exact role of the 49 arrested Ivorian soldiers remains unclear.

Abidjan says they were "national support elements" (NSEs), external personnel hired to provide logistical support to UN peacekeeping missions.

Mali is struggling with a long jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

It is also in the grip of political upheaval following military coups in August 2020 and May 2021.

Providing support for the Mali military regime is the Russia-based Wagner Group mercenary force, which has been accused by a number of parties of engaging in atrocities and war crimes.