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Mali: 48 Ivory Coast soldiers arrested

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Malian authorities detained nearly 50 Ivory Coast soldiers who had come to Mali to work for a contracting company of the United Nations mission in Mali.

The government made the announcement Monday, referring to the Ivorian soldiers as “mercenaries,” which could exacerbate tensions between the two West African countries.

The 49 soldiers arrived at Mali’s international airport on Sunday “with their weapons and ammunition of war, as well as other military equipment,” according to Malian government spokesman Col. Abdoulaye Maiga.

They “were illegally on Mali’s national territory,” he added, and the transitional government regards them as mercenaries.

According to UN mission spokesman Olivier Salgado, the Ivorian soldiers “are not part of one of the MINUSMA contingents, but have been deployed in Mali for several years as part of logistical support on behalf of one of our contingents.”

He stated that their arrival as relief would have been communicated to the national authorities in advance.

They are employed by Sahelian Aviation Services, a German company contracted by the United Nations mission.

Maiga stated that they would end foreign forces’ protection of the Sahelian Aviation Services and demand that they leave Malian territory.

He said the government invited “Sahelian Aviation Services” to entrust its security to Malian defense and security forces.

Mali’s transitional government stated in June that it would not allow the United Nations mission to investigate ongoing human rights violations in the country, heightening tensions as France withdraws its forces.

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