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46 Ivorian Soldiers Return Home After Mali Pardon

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara greets the 46 Ivorian soldiers who were arrested in July and condemned by the Malian courts and pardoned, upon arrival at Abidjan airport on Jan. 7, 2023.

Forty-six Ivorian soldiers detained in Mali since July arrived home late Saturday, according to an AFP reporter at the airport, a day after they were pardoned by the neighboring country's junta.

The troops, whose detention triggered a bitter diplomatic row between the neighboring countries, were arrested on July 10, 2022, after arriving in the Malian capital Bamako.

Mali accused them of being mercenaries, while Ivory Coast and the United Nations say they were flown in to provide routine backup security for the German contingent of the U.N. peacekeeping mission.

On Dec. 30, a Malian court sentenced the 46 soldiers to 20 years in prison, while three women among the original 49 arrested, received death sentences in absentia.

They were convicted of an "attack and conspiracy against the government" and of seeking to undermine state security, public prosecutor Ladji Sara said at the time.

On Friday, Mali's junta leader Assimi Goita pardoned all 49 soldiers.

And on Saturday, the remaining 46 arrived at an airport in the Ivorian economic capital Abidjan.

After their plane landed at 11:40 p.m. local time (2340 GMT), the uniformed soldiers disembarked one by one, each carrying a small Ivorian flag.

They were greeted by President Alassane Ouattara before entering the presidential pavilion at the airport where their families were waiting for them.