Forty-six Ivorian soldiers accused by Mali of being mercenaries have returned home after six months in captivity. The troops arrived at Ivory Coast’s Abidjan airport late on Saturday, a day after receiving a pardon from Mali’s military ruler. Emerging from their plane home on Saturday, each soldier held a small Ivorian flag and smiled as they shook hands with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, who was waiting to greet them at the airport. Their arrest in the Malian capital of Bamako in July of last year had triggered a bitter diplomatic fight between the neighbouring countries. Mali accused them of being mercenaries, while Ivory Coast said they were flown in to provide routine backup security for the German contingent of a United Nations peacekeeping mission. Their release comes days after a court in Bamako sentenced them to 20 years in prison on charges of conspiring against the Malian government and seeking to undermine state security. Three women, who had been among the original 49 arrested at the airport and released earlier, received death sentences in absentia. The sentences came ahead of a January 1 deadline set by leaders from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for Mali to release the soldiers or face sanctions.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA