MALI, West Africa
Mali sentences 46 soldiers from Ivory Coast were sentenced to 20 years in prison for undermining state security and attacking Mali’s government, the African country’s prosecutor general said on Friday.
Prosecutor General Ladji Sara said in a statement that the soldiers were fined more than $3,000 and convicted of carrying and carrying a weapon.
Sarah said three other defendants, all women who were released in September, were tried in absentia and sentenced to death.
The 49 soldiers were detained in July when they went to work for Sahelian Aviation Services, a private company contracted by the United Nations to operate in Mali.
Mali’s government said it considered the Ivorians to be mercenaries because they were not directly employed by the UN mission and accused them of undermining state security. Malian officials said that the airline should hand over its security to the Malian defence forces.
The soldiers’ sentence comes just days before a January 1 deadline set by West African leaders for Mali to release the soldiers. Ivory Coast’s defence minister visited Mali’s capital Bamako earlier this month to appeal for his release.
Mali has little to gain from antagonizing a major neighbour, said Alexander Thurston, assistant professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati. “The junta is increasing its isolation and increasing the likelihood that (the UN peacekeeping mission) will collapse,” he said.
The case has raised tensions between Mali’s military junta and the international community. The junta’s leader, Colonel Asimi Goita, has faced growing isolation since seizing power in a coup two years ago and then failing to meet an international deadline for holding democratic elections.
Goita has allowed Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group to help fight jihadists affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group. The Russians moved into Mali when the French and other regional powers left.