Forty-six Ivory Coast soldiers were sentenced to 20 years in prison for conspiring against Mali’s government, a court in Mali ruled on Friday.
Public prosecutor Ladji Sara said the Ivorians were found guilty of an “attack and conspiracy against the government” and that the soldiers were seeking to undermine state security.
Tensions escalate between Mali, Ivory Coast
Forty-nine Ivorian soldiers were detained upon their arrival in Mali at the airport in capital Bamako in July.
Three of the women detained were released in September as a “humanitarian gesture” by Mali’s military leader, Togolese Foreign Minister Robert Dusse had said.
Dusse’s country was mediating talks between Mali and Ivory Coast at the time, as tensions between the countries rose following the arrests of the soldiers.
An Ivorian delegation flew to Mali last week for talks on the crisis, with the Ivorian Defense Ministry saying the issue was “on the way to being resolved.”
The three women released in September were sentenced in absentia by the court in Mali on Friday. The women face the death penalty.
Mali accuses soldiers of being mercernaries
Mali said the group of soldiers had flown in without permission, while Ivory Coast said the soldiers were unfairly arrested after being sent to Mali to assist the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, or MINUSMA.
Mali’s military rulers said the soldiers were mercenaries and charged them with undermining state security in August.
In November, Ivory Coast said it would be gradually begin withdrawing its military contingent from MINUSMA after failing to secure the release of its soldiers.
West Africa’s main regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), set January 1 as the deadline for releasing the Ivorian soldiers.
ECOWAS said the bloc would impose new sanctions against Mali if they failed to do so.