A court in the West African country has jailed the soldiers for conspiracy against the government.

A court in Mali has sentenced 46 soldiers from Ivory Coast to 20 years in prison for conspiracy against the government, and three others to death in absentia.

The soldiers were also fined more than $3,000 and convicted of carrying and transporting weapons, Attorney General Ladji Sara said in a statement Friday.

Forty-nine Ivorian soldiers were arrested in July at the airport of the Malian capital Bamako, three of whom were later arrested. released. Their arrests sparked a diplomatic row between neighboring countries and widespread condemnation from regional allies.

The soldiers were detained when they went to work for Sahel Aviation Service, a private company contracted by the United Nations to work in Mali.

Mali’s military government said the soldiers were acting as mercenaries, while Ivory Coast said they were part of a UN peacekeeping mission.

They were charged in August with attempted subversion of state security and sentenced in a trial that began on Thursday and ended on Friday, before the January 1 deadline set by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the main political and economic organization in the region. block, to release them or face sanctions.

Ivory Coast said its troops were being held hostage and has repeatedly called for their release. The country announced this last month pull back the remaining soldiers of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

Mali, one of Africa’s most volatile countries, has relied for a decade on regional allies and peacekeepers to contain rebels who have killed thousands and seized large swathes of the central and northern regions.

Mali has little to gain from antagonizing a key neighbor, said Alexander Thurston, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati.

“The junta is exacerbating its isolation and increasing the likelihood that (the UN peacekeeping mission) will collapse,” he said.

The case has led to escalating tensions between Mali’s military authorities and the international community.

The leader of the military authority, Colonel Asimi Goitahas been increasingly isolated since he seized power in a coup two years ago and subsequently failed to meet an international deadline for organizing democratic elections.

Goita has also allowed Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group to help fight rebels linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).

The Russians entered Mali as the French and other regional forces left.

Amid growing tensions with the military, France withdrew her troops after nine years of operations in Mali against rebel groups.

In June, Malian authorities said they would not allow the UN mission to investigate possible human rights violations in the country, including the deaths of more than 300 civilians earlier this year.

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