Having detained 49 Ivory Coast soldiers for over two months, Mali is demanding concessions from the Ivory Coast to guarantee the release of their soldiers. The contingent was sent to Mali as part of a personnel rotation for the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali – MINUSMA. However, the Malian authorities claimed that the Malian soldiers arrived carrying weapons and ammunition while lacking proper documents and mission orders and were thus “mercenaries”. In August, the soldiers were formally charged with “attempted harm to external state security” although three women from the group were released and allowed to return to Mali at the beginning of September.
However, the situation deteriorated further last Friday when Mali’s junta-led government announced that it wants compensation in return for the 46 soldiers. More specifically, Mali authorities want the Ivory Coast to extradite Malians who live in political asylum in the Ivory Coast. In response to these demands, the Ivory Coast is accusing Mali of blackmail and hostage taking. The country has also called for an emergency meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to discuss and resolve the crisis as soon as possible.
Relations between Mali and ECOWAS members, as well as with France and Europe, have been greatly strained ever since a May 2021 military coup led by then Malian Vice President Assimi Goïta overthrew the national government. These difficulties have led to much of the peacekeeping and stability forces deployed to the region by countries like Germany, Denmark and France departing the country. Instead, the Goïta regime has turned towards Russia from whom Mali received two Mi-24P attack helicopters earlier this year. The junta has also relied on Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group for security support.
ECOWAS had previously maintained stringent sanctions against Mali but largely lifted them after the junta regime introduced a new framework for holding elections and returning Mali to civilian rule in 2024.