A Malian court on Friday found 46 Ivorian soldiers guilty of undermining state security and handed them 20 years each in prison.
The Appeals Court of Bamako reached its verdict after two days of a marathon trial that began on Thursday, December 29.
The Ivorian soldiers were held on July 10, 2022, after they arrived at the Bamako Airport at the height of a row between Mali’s military junta and Western countries over the West African nation’s ties with Russia.
While the Cote d’Ivoire government said the troops were part of a UN Mission, the Malians insisted that they were mercenaries seeking to destabilise the country.
Among the soldiers detained were three women, who were freed on humanitarian grounds but were later tried in absentia.
Friday’s verdict comes just before the deadline for an ultimatum by the West African bloc ECOWAS for the soldiers to be released.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders meeting in the Nigerian capital Abuja on December 4 had given Bamako up to January 1 to release the soldiers or face sanctions.
ECOWAS lifted sanctions on Bamako in early July, about seven months after they were imposed over its failure to make progress in returning the country to democratic rule.
Mali has been under military rule since August 2020, when soldiers overthrew the government of former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Under pressure of possible sanctions, the military appointed a civilian-led administration, which it overthrew eight months later, prompting the imposition of the crippling sanctions.
The Malian army justified the coup on the civilian administration’s inability to end over a decade of insurgency-related unrest in parts of the country.
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