Leaders of West African countries under their umbrella corporation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Sunday told Mali to release 46 Ivorian troops held captive since July or face sanctions.
“We ask the Malian authorities to release the Ivorian soldiers by January 1, 2023, at the latest,” Omar Touray, chairman of the ECOWAS commission, told journalists at the summit held in Abuja, Nigeria.
Touray also said that ECOWAS reserves the right to act if the soldiers are not released by January. “ECOWAS will impose sanctions if Mali fails to do so”, a West African diplomat said.
The West African diplomat added that Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe, who is a mediator between Mali and Ivory Coast in the crisis, will go to Mali to demand the release of the soldiers.
On July 10 Mali arrested nearly 50 soldiers from the Ivory Coast who came to Mali to work for a contracting company of the United Nations Mission in Mali.
The government made an announcement calling the Ivorian soldiers “mercenaries”, in a move that could raise tensions between the two West African countries.
“Two aircraft arrived at Mali’s international airport with 49 soldiers with their weapons and ammunition of war, as well as other military equipment,” said Malian government spokesman Col. Abdoulaye Maiga. They were illegally on the national territory of Mali, and the transitional government considers them mercenaries, he added.
ECOWAS had decided at an extraordinary summit in September to send a high-level delegation to Mali to try to resolve the crisis. But no progress was reported from this mission.
However, in September, Mali released three female soldiers after months of being detained. The three soldiers were released on humanitarian grounds and are part of a group of 49 Ivorian soldiers detained in Bamako since July.