The public prosecutor announced on Friday that a court in Mali had sentenced 46 Ivorian soldiers, whose detention there caused a diplomatic dispute between the two countries, to 20 years in prison.
Three female soldiers who were part of the original group detained in July and released in early September received death sentences in their absence.
The 46 Ivorian soldiers’ trial had ended earlier on Friday after beginning on Thursday in Bamako, the country’s capital.
The court hearings took place just before West African leaders gave Mali until January 1 to release the soldiers or face punishment.
According to a statement from public prosecutor Ladji Sara, the Ivorians were found responsible for a “attack and conspiracy against the government” and trying to compromise national security.
An AFP journalist observed that the court proceedings took place behind closed doors and with intense security.
On July 10, 49 Ivory Coast soldiers were detained after they arrived at the airport in Bamako. Later, three of them—all women—were set free.
The following month, those who were left were accused of trying to compromise state security and were referred to by Mali’s junta as “mercenaries.”
The troops were allegedly flown in to provide routine backup security for the German contingent of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, according to Ivory Coast and the United Nations.
When diplomatic sources in the area claimed Mali wanted Ivory Coast to accept responsibility and express regret for sending the soldiers, the conflict heated up in September.
Additionally, they claimed that Bamako demanded that Ivory Coast turn over residents who have been on its soil since 2013 but who are wanted in Mali.
According to the sources, Ivory Coast rejected both demands and was ready for protracted negotiations to secure the men’s release.
The Ivorian defense ministry claimed the crisis was “on the way to being resolved” after a delegation from Ivory Coast visited Mali last week for talks.
A deal between Mali and Ivory Coast last week leaves open the possibility of a presidential pardon by Mali’s junta leader Assimi Goita, who is scheduled to deliver a speech to the country on Saturday.
In order to avoid new sanctions against Mali, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) set New Year’s Day as the deadline for the soldiers’ release on December 4.