the prospect of a diplomatic settlement is complicated

the prospect of a diplomatic settlement is complicated

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In the case of the 49 Ivorian soldiers arrested on their arrival in Bamako on July 10, the prospect of a diplomatic settlement seems increasingly threatened. Because stumbling blocks that are difficult to overcome are now clearly assumed, and because the United Nations has not removed certain gray areas.

Mali and Côte d’Ivoire are now accusing each other of breaking their word. In a press release released last nightBamako considers that the Ivorian government “ has just recanted “. About ten days ago, during the release of three female soldiers, out of the 49 arrested, Abidjan recognized ” misunderstandings and misunderstandings in the procedures followed. A confession, in the eyes of Bamako, which therefore considers as a ” turnaround » the charge of ” hostage-taking » worn Wednesday by Abidjan.

On the Ivorian side, it is estimated that recognizing ” shortcomings is, on the contrary, proof of good faith: there were administrative dysfunctions, but the soldiers did indeed come within a UN framework and in no way to destabilize Mali. Moreover, these are not “apologies” that were pronounced on September 3, precisely for this reason.

Broken trust

Abidjan even believes that, on the contrary, it is the Malians who have gone back on their commitments and who therefore have a ” credibility problem “. A source close to the Ivorian presidency assures that the Malian transitional president, Colonel Assimi Goïta, had agreed not to request the extradition of Malian politicians who live or stay in Abidjan, and against whom the Malian authorities have issued warrants. international arrest (the son of former President IBK, Karim Keïta, former Prime Minister Boubou Cissé and former Minister Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly).

Sources close to the negotiations confirmed this to RFI, not hiding their astonishment at this volte-face by the Malian head of state. But this is THE counterpart demanded today by Bamako in exchange for the release of the Ivorian soldiers. It is hard to see how two parties who no longer trust the word of the other, and who proclaim it publicly, can reach an agreement.

Second serious stumbling block: the recourse by Côte d’Ivoire to arbitration by ECOWAS is categorically rejected by Mali. A summit of heads of state of the West African organization is scheduled for next week, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Côte d’Ivoire appeals to the sub-regional institution to obtain the release of its soldiers. A ” instrumentalization of ECOWAS “, according to the Malian transitional government, which already announces that it does not feel ” not affected by this procedure. »

Political dossier for Abidjan, judicial for Bamako

For Abidjan, the file is “ politics and diplomacy », and it is President Alassane Ouattara who would be directly targeted. Because Bamako would like to make him pay for the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS and UEMOA between January and last July in exchange for guarantees on the holding of elections, because the Ivorian president is perceived as too close to France, or because that Bamako seeks to inflame the file by strategy, in order to mobilize national pride and divert the attention of Malians and the media.

For Bamako, on the contrary, the file is ” judicial and bilateral “. This means that unless there is a settlement via Togolese mediation, the only one accepted by Bamako, the 46 Ivorian soldiers still detained will therefore have to be tried for “ breach of state security “.

Regionalization of the conflict?

The turn taken by the case with the involvement of ECOWAS, at the request of the Ivorian authorities, certainly takes us away from all chances of reaching a happy ending. », Estimates Aly Tounkara, teacher-researcher at the University of Bamako and director of the Center for Security and Strategic Studies in the Sahel (CE3S). ” The history between Bamako and certain ECOWAS heads of state (due to the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS in Mali between January and last July, editor’s note) could further tighten the conditions for the eventual release of these Ivorian soldiers detained by Bamako. »

ECOWAS therefore intends to play the referees, at the request of Abidjan and against the will of Bamako. Could we witness a regionalization of the conflict and a new showdown between Mali and ECOWAS? ” I don’t think there is an arsenal allowing ECOWAS to demand any release. Côte d’Ivoire had recognized the shortcomings that characterized the arrival of its soldiers on Malian soil. Therefore, in the name of legality and equidistance (between the two parties, Editor’s note), ECOWAS could only play the role of mediator and not of arbiter. »

The vagueness of the UN maintains the crisis

If the conflict persists between Mali and Côte d’Ivoire, it is also because of a blurring of the status of these Ivorian soldiers, which the United Nations has still not clearly resolved. The UN had initially assured that the arrested Ivorian soldiers had NSE (National Support Elements) status, troops who are not part of the Minusma but who come to support it. Before, a few days later, to backtrack.

Since then, the United Nations has explained, in a note made public by Bamako, that the Ivorian soldiers were indeed intervening within the UN framework, to ” providing security at the German NSE base in Sénou, where the Bamako airport is located. But without clearly specifying under what conditions. Neither Germany – which has a contingent of blue helmets and NSEs in Mali to support them – nor its subcontractor SAS (Sahel Aviation Service), a time quoted, have admitted to the Malian transitional authorities that they have any contract with the arrested Ivorian soldiers, which the Minusma confirmed.

If Côte d’Ivoire recognizes ” shortcomings and misunderstandings “, she continues to hammer that it is indeed within the framework of support for the Minusma that its 49 soldiers were sent to Bamako, and in no case to destabilize Mali. Administrative dysfunctions therefore seem to be the cause of their arrest, but the nature of these dysfunctions has never been clearly revealed by the United Nations.

Since the affair broke out, Bamako and the Minusma have overhauled the procedures for the rotation of foreign soldiers coming and going in Mali, and Côte d’Ivoire has undertaken to respect them. Several hundred Ivorian peacekeepers have even recently arrived in Mali and are deployed in the North, in Timbuktu.

A UN official directly involved in the case deplores that the United Nations does not take its share of responsibility. ” We released the Ivorians in full flight “, estimates this source, diverting with irony the now famous formula of the Malian Prime Minister of Transition Choguel Maïga (officially still in office despite a “resting” dating back more than a month and the appointment of a head of government by interim).

In any case, in the absence of clear and definitive clarification from the UN, Mali can continue to affirm, and these are the words of the press release issued Thursday evening, that ” no legal basis “doesn’t come to date” justify » the presence or the mission of the Ivorian soldiers still detained. Whose prospects for quick release seem to have gone a long way in the space of a few days.

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