Ivory Coast’s president has welcomed home 46 soldiers who were detained in Mali, saying he hopes ties between the two countries can now return to normal.
Eko Hot Blog reports that the Ivorian soldiers were pardoned by Mali’s junta leader Assimi Goïta.
A court had sentenced them to 20 years in prison for undermining state security.
Ivory Coast denied the allegation, saying they had been sent to Mali to be part of a UN mission fighting militant Islamists.
Their detention, since their arrival in July 2022, caused a diplomatic row between the two nations.
Relations between Mali and the West African regional bloc, Ecowas, have been strained since the military staged a coup, overthrowing President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020.
Ivory Coast is part of Ecowas, and is regarded as one of the most strident critics of the coup.
The release of the soldiers followed mediation by Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbé, and an Ivorian government delegation visiting Mali to negotiate their release.
Mr Ouattara greeted the soldiers after they arrived at an airport in Ivory Coast’s main city, Abidjan, on Saturday night.
He said the crisis in relations with the junta was now over.
“Now that this crisis is behind us, we can resume normal relations with the brother country of Mali, which needs us and which we also need,” he said in a speech at the airfield.
A spokesman for the soldiers thanked Ouattara, saying they were happy “to return to the motherland”, AFP news agency reports.
Mali’s junta has been strengthening ties with Russia in a bid to fight militant Islamists who have been causing havoc across the Sahel region.
This has caused its relationship with Ecowas and Western powers to deteriorate.
In November 2022, France’s President Emmanuel Macron formally ended France’s decade-long operation to fight Islamist insurgents in the Sahel.
The UK also announced the withdrawal of its troops from Mali.
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