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STORY: One soldier's mother, Coulibaly Femme Riche, described her relief to Reuters that her son is home having been arrested on his birthday. "We cried, we fasted, we prayed and finally God has answered us, I am in joy, joy, words fail me," she said.
The soldiers' return signals the apparent resolution of a diplomatic standoff between the West African neighbors that also worsened Mali's already tense relations with regional powers.
Emerging from the plane, each soldier held a small Ivorian flag and smiled as they shook hands with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, who was waiting to greet them on the tarmac.
Citing a commitment to peace and dialog, Mali's junta late on Friday (January 6) pardoned the soldiers, who had been sentenced on Dec. 30 to 20 years in prison for allegedly attempting to undermine state security.
Malian authorities had arrested them in July, accusing the troops of acting as mercenaries, but Ivory Coast said they were part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali.
Mali has grown increasingly isolated since military officers toppled the government in 2020 and failed on election promises, prompting sanctions from West Africa's main political and economic bloc ECOWAS.