Ivory Coast will be gradually withdrawing its military contingent from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) after the continued detention of 46 Ivorian soldiers who have been accused of being mercenaries.
The announcement was made in a letter, which was sent to the UN secretary-general last week and circulated on Tuesday.
In the letter to the UN, Ivory Coast officials said they would not replace their personnel in MINUSMA when the current group rotates out in August. Ivory Coast had 857 personnel serving in Mali as of June.
Negotiations have stalled over the release of the Ivorian soldiers, who were arrested at the Bamako airport on arrival in July. Three female soldiers have been released, but the others remain in Malian custody.
The Ivorian soldiers were sent to Mali to work for Sahelian Aviation Services, a private company contracted by the UN.
However, Mali’s government said it considered the Ivorians to be mercenaries because they were not directly employed by the UN mission and charged them with undermining state security.
Malian authorities said the aviation company should “henceforth entrust its security to the Malian defence and security forces.”
The detention of the Ivorian soldiers marked the latest sign of tension between Mali’s leader and the international community. Colonel Assimi Goita has faced growing isolation after he seized power in a coup two years ago and then failed to meet an international deadline for organising a new democratic election.
In September, the regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) condemned Malian authorities for using “blackmail” in their negotiations with Ivorian authorities.
On Monday, the UK announced it would be withdrawing its 300 peacekeepers from Mali, saying the country’s growing reliance on Russian mercenaries is undermining stability.
France, the one-time colonial power that had fought armed groups in Mali unsuccessfully for nine years, completed its troop withdrawal from the country earlier this year.