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Mali's transitional president, Colonel Assimi Goïta (right), during National Army Day, in Kati, January 20, 2022.

With his somewhat loose frame, Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga doesn’t really fit the standards of news presenters. His appearances of him, however, have become a guarantee of listening for the Malian national television, as when in February he had invited France to withdraw. ” Without hesitation “ his soldiers from Operation Barkhane. The spokesman for the ruling junta in Bamako did not lack reputation on Monday 11 July, announcing that 49 Ivorian soldiers arrested the day before at Bamako airport were considered “mercenaries” and that these had been “made available to the competent judicial authorities”.

Equipped with “their armaments” and of “war ammunition” but having hidden their true profession by passing on passports as “Students, drivers, builders, mechanics, shop assistants …”, these soldiers, mostly from the Ivorian special forces, would enter “illegally” in Malian territory on two separate flights, “without mission order or authorization”, with “the evil design (…) obviously to break the dynamics of refounding and securing Mali, as well as the return to constitutional order “, according to the description of the events.

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The Ivorian soldiers reportedly provided four different reasons for their arrival, one of them “reserved mission” that the government spokesman did not care to point out. Contacted by their counterparts, the Ivorian military officials allegedly said “Who ignored everything” the presence of these soldiers. To create a way out and perhaps avoid a diplomatic crisis, the communiqué from the Malian transitional government, read by the official, ends with an invitation to “collaboration with the sister Republic of the Ivory Coast, so that all the light is thrown on this affair”.

“It’s crazy!”

That precaution aside, this statement may seem as brutal as it is impromptu, just eight days after Mali’s neighbors lifted the trade and financial blockade they imposed on it in January. The hour seemed to lighten and on Monday evening, in Abidjan, an official source lost his words: “That’s crazy! Why should we attempt a coup when we have just lifted the sanctions? These soldiers are there as part of an agreement, specifically to protect the German contingent base of Minusma. [mission des Nations unies pour la stabilisation au Mali]. “

The Malian accusations may in fact seem all the more surprising since a few hours earlier the spokesman for the UN mission seemed to extinguish the controversy. “These soldiers have been deployed for several years in Mali as part of logistical support on behalf of one of our contingents. According to our information, their relief on 10 July would have been communicated in advance to the national authorities “, explained Olivier Salgado in a series of tweetsspecifying that this use of “Elements of national support” (NSE) is “a common practice in peacekeeping missions”.

At the same time, a note dated 5 July and attributed to the Ivorian Ministry of Defense, it appeared on social networks. This indicates it “The 8And Secondment NSE “ driven by “Lieutenant Kouassi Adam Sanni of the Special Forces, will raise the 7And secondment on 10 July in Bamako ”.

Blocking strategy

Consequently, if it is just a routine rotation and that these soldiers have not had “the evil design” that the Malian government is lending to him, this new episode of tension can only be understood in the blockade strategy now imposed by Bamako in Minusma. After pushing the French forces to hasten its exit, the Malian authorities have multiplied the obstacles to the work of a UN mission weakened by this departure.

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In response to sanctions in the region, nearly 2,500 UN peacekeepers from West Africa could not be lifted in June. Some for over a year. United Nations flights and ground travel are subject to increasing restrictions. The arrested Ivorian soldiers were to be posted to the Sahel Aviation Service company, a UN subcontractor, invited by the government “entrust his safety from now on” to the Malian army.

When Minusma’s mandate was renewed in late June, Mali said it intended to submit the Mission’s movements and human rights investigations to its authorization. Bamako had just achieved a small victory by achieving that the resolution does not directly condemn Wagner, this private security company close to the Kremlin, whose mercenaries have been operating with Malian soldiers since January.

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