Mali arrests nearly 50 soldiers from Ivory Coast

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Malian authorities arrested nearly 50 soldiers from Ivory Coast who came to Mali to work for a company contracted by the United Nations mission in Mali.

The government made the announcement Monday calling the Ivorian soldiers “mercenaries,” in a move that could raise tensions between the two West African countries.

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Two aircraft arrived at Mali’s international airport Sunday with the 49 soldiers “with their weapons and ammunition of war, as well as other military equipment,” said Malian government spokesman Col. Abdoulaye Maiga. They “were illegally on the national territory of Mali,” and the transitional government considers them mercenaries, he added.

UN mission spokesman Olivier Salgado said these Ivorian soldiers “are not part of one of the MINUSMA contingents, but have been deployed for several years in Mali as part of logistical support on behalf of one of our contingents.” He said that their arrival as relief would have been communicated beforehand to the national authorities.

The soldiers are working for the Sahelian Aviation Services, a private company contracted by the UN, he said.

The government intends to put an end to the protection activity of the Sahelian Aviation Services by foreign forces and demand their departure from Malian territory, the government spokesman said.

The government invited “the airline” Sahelian Aviation Services “to henceforth entrust its security to the Malian defense and security forces,” he said.

Mali’s transitional government affirmed in June that it would not authorize the UN mission to investigate ongoing human rights violations in Mali, including an incident at a small village in the center of Mali where the Malian army is accused by rights groups of killing more than 300 civilians in April.

International tensions are mounting as France has also announced the withdrawal of its forces deployed there nearly a decade ago to help fight extremist rebels.

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