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Pardoned Ivorian soldiers arrive home after Malian captivity

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara (left) speaks with some of the 46 Ivorian soldiers who were arrested in July and then pardoned in Mali at Abidjan airport on Jan 07, 2023. (SIA KAMBOU / AFP)

ABIDJAN – Forty-six Ivorian soldiers recently pardoned by Mali's junta flew home to Cote d'Ivoire's Abidjan airport on Saturday after around six months in captivity, state television showed.

Their return signals the apparent resolution of a diplomatic standoff between the West African neighbors that also worsened Mali's already tense relations with regional powers.

Emerging from the plane, each soldier held a small Ivorian flag and smiled as he shook hands with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara who was waiting to greet them at the airport

Emerging from the plane, each soldier held a small Ivorian flag and smiled as he shook hands with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara who was waiting to greet them at the airport.

"Now that this crisis is behind us, we can resume normal relations with the brother country of Mali," Ouattara said once they were on all on Ivorian soil.

Citing a commitment to peace and dialogue, Mali's junta late on Friday pardoned the soldiers, who had been sentenced on Dec 30 to 20 years in prison for allegedly attempting to undermine state security.

They were arrested in July at the airport in Mali's capital Bamako. At the time the Malian authorities said the troops were acting as mercenaries, while  Cote d'Ivoire said they were part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali.

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Mali has grown increasingly isolated since military officers toppled the government in 2020 and failed on election promises, prompting sanctions from West Africa's main political and economic bloc ECOWAS.