Ivory Coast on Tuesday ordered Mali to release 49 of its soldiers it claimed were “unjustly” detained at Bamako airport on Sunday.
The incident may worsen tensions between Mali’s military rulers and other West African nations amid efforts to quell an Islamist insurgency and restore democratic rule.
The West African country’s Islamist insurgency took root after an uprising and a coup in 2012. It has since spread to neighbouring countries, killing thousands and displacing millions across West Africa’s Sahel region and coastal states.
Mali’s military government said the troops they called mercenaries and charged as such arrived without permission, adding that some of their passports indicated non-military professions, and gave differing versions of their mandate.
But Ivory Coast’s national security council said in a statement that none were carrying weapons and that they went to Mali to join UN peacekeeping operations there.
Ivory Coast added that none of the soldiers carried arms or war munitions as they disembarked, but that a second plane contained arms for self-protection authorised by the United Nations.
The junta in Mali said its foreign ministry was not informed by official channels.
The spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, Olivier Salgado, confirmed this information on Twitter, adding that the soldiers are one of several national units deployed to back up troop contingents.