Monday evening, the Malian Minister of the Interior, Abdoulaye Maïga, published a statement on the case of the 49 Ivorian soldiers arrested Sunday in Bamako. According to him, it would be mercenaries who sought to destabilize Mali.
Last Sunday in Mali, at the beginning of the afternoon, 49 Ivorian soldiers who arrived in Bamako in planes belonging to the private company Sahel Aviation Service (SAS) were arrested by the authorities.
Officially, these Ivorian soldiers are part of an NSE detachment, regularly deployed since 2019 as auxiliaries to the Minusma blue helmets. In this case, their mission would be to secure logistics sites for the German contingent of Minusma.
However, this time, the Malian gendarmerie noted some irregularities. In this case, about thirty Ivorian soldiers were part of the special forces, and were equipped with sophisticated weapons. On their passports, their professions varied, between mechanics, salesmen, electricians, painters...
Following their arrest, after the authorities in Mali discovered that they had no mission order, the 49 Ivorian soldiers presented four different documents to show that their presence in Mali was legal.
“To find out more, officials from the Malian Defense and Security Forces contacted their Ivorian counterparts. The latter claimed to be unaware of the presence of the Ivorian soldiers arrested in Mali”, explains the Malian Minister of the Interior Abdoulaye Maïga.
After listing the offenses committed by the Ivorian soldiers, Abdoulaye Maïga declared that "the transitional government considers them mercenaries". According to the Malian official, "the fatal intention of those arrested was clearly to break the dynamics of the refoundation and securing of Mali, as well as the return to constitutional order".
Diplomatic incident in sight?
Serious accusations from Mali, therefore, watered down by a statement from the authorities who say "count on the cooperation of the sister Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, so that all the light is shed on this affair". In the meantime, the 49 soldiers have been placed at the disposal of the “competent judicial authorities”.
On social media, this case has, unsurprisingly, sparked rumors from Malian and Ivorian Internet users. Theories range from a coup attempt in Mali allegedly backed by Alassane Ouattara, to the involvement of peacekeepers.
What fueled the rumors was above all the Ivorian reaction. “There were no arrests, they were taken to the gendarmerie for checks,” said an Ivorian military source. Between this announcement, and the Malian press release, the spokesperson for Minusma Olivier Salgado, for his part, denied that the Ivorian soldiers belonged to one of the Minusma contingents. "These soldiers are deployed as part of logistical support on behalf of one of our contingents," says Salgado.
The UN force therefore throws the ball in the direction of the German blue helmets. And on the side of Abidjan, it is absolute silence. If the public has been accused of getting things done quickly, the confusion only fuels the mystery.
Read: Mali: West African presidents, France's "missi dominici"?
So certainly, relations between Mali and Côte d'Ivoire have not been excellent since the establishment of the ECOWAS embargo on Bamako. Even though the embargo has since been lifted, and Côte d'Ivoire was one of the big losers in this affair, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara continues to put pressure on Mali.
This case of soldiers, now in the hands of Malian justice, is likely to add grist to the mill. And if Mali's accusations turn out to be true, it could very quickly turn into a diplomatic crisis.
#Mali : the 49 Ivorian soldiers arrested yesterday by the defense and security forces of Mali are considered mercenaries and will be tried in Mali. #ORTM1
Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga pic.twitter.com/wXSyseFaNc
— History of Africa ♤ (@silboyofficiel) July 11th, 2022