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Mali’s military junta pardoned and suspended the sentences of 49 Ivorian troops over the weekend, bringing an end to a diplomatic spat that had underscored the West African country’s growing isolation and poor relations with its neighbors, the New York Times reported.

Malian authorities had detained the troops nearly six months ago and accused them of being mercenaries set to destabilize the country. But neighboring Ivory Coast denied the accusations, saying that the soldiers were part of a nearly decade-old United Nations peacekeeping mission of 15,000 members assigned to protect civilians from armed groups.

Despite months of negotiations and also mediation, a Malian court convicted 46 soldiers of conspiracy against the government and sentenced them to 20 years in prison late last month. Three female soldiers – who were arrested but later released – were sentenced to death in absentia.

But on Friday, junta leader Colonel Assimi Goïta revoked the sentences of all the soldiers, citing a commitment to peace and dialogue.

Over the weekend, the soldiers returned home to Ivory Coast, where they were greeted by the country’s president, Alassane Ouattara, Reuters added.

The pardon comes as Mali’s relations with some West African nations have worsened following military coups in 2020 and 2021, prompting sanctions from the region’s main political and economic bloc, the Economic Community of West African States.

Mali is in the throes of a years-long jihadist conflict in which terrorists linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda have ravaged much of the country. A force of UN peacekeepers and European soldiers have aided the Malian military but haven’t made substantial progress, according to the Financial Times.

The country has since sought security help from Russia via the private Wagner Group, provoking friction between Mali and the West, particularly France, its former colonial power.

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