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Mali Arrests Ivorian Soldiers in Bamako 

FILE - A general view of the city of Bamako pictured from the point G in Bamako, Mali, Aug. 9, 2018.
FILE - A general view of the city of Bamako pictured from the point G in Bamako, Mali, Aug. 9, 2018.

Mali's military government has arrested nearly 50 Ivorian troops who provide support to a contingent of the U.N. mission, calling them “mercenaries.”

Mali’s military government has arrested 49 soldiers from Ivory Coast on their arrival at Bamako’s airport Sunday evening, accusing them of being mercenaries.

Government spokesperson Abdoulaye Maiga read an official statement on state TV ORTM Monday night, which was posted to the station’s Facebook page.

He says the transitional government considers them mercenaries, as defined by the African Union Convention on the Elimination of Mercenaryism in Africa.

Maiga says the soldiers were working for “Sahelian Aviation Services,” a company contracted by Mali’s U.N. mission. He asked during the address that the company leave Malian territory “immediately.”

Rumors circulated on pro-government social media accounts Monday of an attempted coup d’état, which the military government did not address or clarify, only accusing the soldiers of planning to "break the dynamics of the refoundation and security of Mali."

Maiga references a 1977 African Union convention aimed at eliminating mercenaries on African soil due to “the grave threat which the activities of mercenaries present to the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and harmonious development” of African Union member states.

Mali’s military government itself has been accused of working with mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group. They have continually denied the presence of mercenaries, claiming to work only with “Russian instructors.”

However, in multiple incidents in central and northern Mali, locals have attested to journalists and human rights groups witnessing Russian mercenaries committing human rights abuses while working with the Malian army.

Olivier Salgado, spokesperson for the U.N. mission to Mali (MINUSMA), tweeted on Monday the soldiers “are not part of one of the contingents of MINUSMA,” but are “logistical support on behalf of one of our contingents.”

MINUSMA’s mandate was renewed last month, though the Malian representative to the U.N. expressed during a security council meeting the government will not allow them to carry out investigations of human rights abuse accusations, a part of their mandate.

Sanctions imposed by ECOWAS, the regional bloc, in January, were lifted in July after the junta proposed a 2024 election plan. The lifting of sanctions allowed ambassadors from neighboring states to return to Bamako, and opened up borders between Mali and ECOWAS countries, including Ivory Coast.