Mali’s military junta has confirmed the arrest of 49 Ivorian military personnel at the airport in the capital, Bamako, and stressed that it considers them to be «mercenaries» who were carrying «weapons and munitions of war, as well as other military equipment».
The spokesman of the transitional government, Abdoulaye Maiga, said in a statement that all of them were arrested on Sunday at around 11:15 a.m. (local time) after the landing of two aircraft arriving from Ivory Coast.
«Thanks to the professionalism of the Malian Defense and Security Forces, it was determined that 49 Ivorian military personnel were illegally on Malian national territory. As a result, they were immediately arrested and their weapons, ammunition and equipment were seized,» he explained.
Thus, he detailed that among them there were «about 30 members of the special forces» and that «the real profession of the soldiers was largely hidden». «In most of the passports of the detained soldiers, professions such as student, driver, builder, mechanic, salesman, electrician, security guard, painter, etc. appeared,» he said.
Maiga emphasized that the detainees «gave four different versions to justify their presence on Malian territory, including a confidential mission, rotation in the framework of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), providing security for a logistics base of the Sahelian Aviation Services airline and protecting the German contingent».
In this regard, he stressed that the authorities «immediately» contacted the Ivory Coast, which «claimed to be unaware of the presence of the Ivorian military», before denouncing that «the procedures» for the deployment of armed military personnel in the country «were not respected».
«Questioned by the Malian authorities, MINUSMA said that it did not have a planned rotation on July 10, 2022,» he noted, while stressing that Bamako «was not informed through official channels of a deployment of Ivorian military personnel,» thus speaking of «a flagrant violation of the provisions of Article 38 of the Malian Penal Code on attacks against the external security of the State and the integrity of the territory.»
«In view of the defects and infractions committed within the framework of the deployment of these 49 Ivorian military personnel, the transitional government considers them as mercenaries», he said, before denouncing the «disastrous intentions» of the detainees to «strike at the dynamics of refounding and guaranteeing the security of Mali, as well as the return to constitutional order».
For all these reasons, Maiga announced that the Malian authorities have decided to «put an immediate end to the protection activities of Sahelian Aviation Services (…) and to demand their immediate departure from Malian territory» and to send the detainees to the judicial authorities.
The government spokesman emphasized its desire to maintain good relations with Côte d’Ivoire and said that «it would like to count on the cooperation of the sister republic of Côte d’Ivoire to clarify everything related to this affair».
For his part, MINUSMA spokesman Olivier Salgado said via his account on the social network Twitter that the detained soldiers «were not part of one of the MINUSMA contingents.» «These soldiers have been deployed for years in Mali in the framework of a logistical support on behalf of one of our contingents,» he argued.
«According to our information, their release on July 10 would have been previously communicated to the national authorities,» he stressed, before maintaining that «the national support elements are national troops deployed by the countries that contribute troops in support of their contingents.»
«This is standard practice in peacekeeping missions. They are not counted as MINUSMA troops. Reliefs of MINUSMA troops are planned and carried out in agreement with the Malian authorities,» he said.
Therefore, Salgado stressed that the UN mission «is working to ensure that the rotations of the West African contingents, which are being delayed due to the lack of the required authorizations, can be carried out as soon as possible».