Mali’s transitional government has pardoned 49 Ivorian soldiers arrested earlier this year, a spokesman said on Friday.
The soldiers were arrested in July at the airport in the Malian capital Bamako and were accused of conspiring against the Malian government.
Forty-six (46) soldiers were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on December 30 for allegedly attempting to undermine state security. Three others, who had been released in September, were sentenced to death in absentia.
The soldiers went to Mali to work for Sahel Aviation Services, a private company contracted by the United Nations.
Mali’s ruling military junta accused the soldiers of acting as mercenaries. The Ivory Coast said they were part of a UN peacekeeping mission.
The arrest sparked a diplomatic dispute with the Ivory Coast and condemnation from regional allies. West African leaders had set a deadline for Mali to release the soldiers by January 1 or face sanctions.
“The transitional president Colonel Assimi Goita has granted pardon and fully revoked the sentences of the 49 Ivorian,” government spokesman Abdoulaye Maiga said.
Maiga said that the pardon “demonstrates once again [Goita’s] commitment to peace, dialogue, pan-Africanism and the preservation of fraternal and secular relations with regional countries, in particular those between Mali and the Ivory Coast.”
The government said in a statement that the pardon reflected the interim president’s concern for good governance and respect for independent justice.