However, Mali’s government said it considered the Ivorians to be mercenaries, because they were not directly employed by the U.N. mission and charged them with undermining state security. Malian authorities said the aviation company should “henceforth entrust its security to the Malian defense and security forces.”
The detention of the Ivorian soldiers marked the latest sign of tension between Mali’s leader and the international community. Col. 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 organizing a new democratic election.
On Monday, the U.K. 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 Islamic extremism for nine years in Mali, completed its troop withdrawal from the country earlier this year.