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Mali releases three Ivorian soldiers; 46 others are still in custody

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Three female Ivorian soldiers returned home late Saturday after being held for nearly two months in Mali, while 46 others remain jailed in a case that has raised tensions between Western neighbors. Fly.

Togolese Foreign Minister Robert Dusse, whose country is arranging the negotiations, said the three women had been released “as a humanitarian gesture” by Mali’s leader, Colonel Assimi Goita.

“We are very sad that our friends are still there and we hope we can find them very soon,” said one of the soldiers, Sita Bamba, who was released along with Awa Bakayoko and Kangah Badou Adele. Bledou, said.

Ivorian soldiers were sent to Mali in July to work for the Sahelian Air Service, a private company contracted by the United Nations.

However, the Malian government says it considers the Ivores to be mercenaries because they do not directly work for the UN mission and accuses them of undermining national security. Malian authorities said the airline company should “entrust its security to Malian security and defense forces”.

In a statement, Malian Prosecutor Samba Sissoko gave no update on the 46 Ivoryas still in custody, other than saying that “investigations are ongoing.” Togolon’s foreign minister said discussions about the remaining detainees continued.

The detention of Ivory soldiers marks the latest sign of tension between the Malian leader and the international community. Goita has faced increasing isolation after he seized power in a coup two years ago and then failed to meet an international deadline to hold new democratic elections.

In June, Malian authorities said they would not authorize the United Nations mission to investigate human rights abuses in Mali, including the deaths of more than 300 civilians earlier this year. Human rights groups have accused the Malian army of carrying out the killings.

France, the once colonial power that fought Islamic extremism for nine years in Mali, completed its withdrawal from the country last month.

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Ahmed reports from Bamako, Mali. Writer Krista Larson of the Associated Press in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.

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