It was a bittersweet homecoming. Forty-six Ivorian soldiers, detained in neighboring Mali since July 2022, returned to Cote d’Ivoire last Saturday a day after they were pardoned by the interim leader of that country’s military junta, Col. Assimi Goita. Their arrest and detention had triggered a diplomatic spat between the two countries and drew condemnation from governments in the region.
Branding the group of soldiers “mercenaries,” Bamako accused them of having violated Malian airspace without permission when they flew into the country. But Abidjan, as well as the United Nations, said that the soldiers were part of a contingent providing support for MINUSMA, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali established to stabilize the country after the 2012 Tuareg rebellion. Although the troops are safely home, the episode exposes deep-seated divisions and distrust between the neighboring West African countries.
Upon their return, the released soldiers were received by their families as well as by Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara. “We are proud of the discipline, patience and courage they have shown during these months of detention,” Ouattara later wrote on Twitter. He also expressed hope that “normal relations with the brother country of Mali, which needs us and which we also need,” could be reestablished.