A public prosecutor announced on Friday that 46 Ivorian soldiers, whose detention in Mali triggered a diplomatic dispute between the two nations, had been given a 20-year prison sentence by a Mali court.
Three female soldiers from the first imprisoned group who were released in early September were given death sentences in their absence.
The 46 Ivorian soldiers’ trial had ended earlier on Friday after starting in Bamako, the country’s capital, on Thursday.
The judicial proceedings took place just before a deadline of January 1 that West African leaders had set for Mali to free the soldiers or face punishment.
According to public prosecutor Ladji Sara in a statement, the Ivorians were found guilty of “attack and conspiracy against the government” and attempting to compromise national security.
An AFP correspondent observed that the court sessions were conducted in a secure setting with closed doors.
On July 10, 49 Ivory Coast soldiers were detained upon their arrival at Bamako airport. All three of them—women—were ultimately set free.
Those remaining, branded by Mali’s junta as “mercenaries”, were charged the following month with seeking to undermine state security.
Ivory Coast and the United Nations say the troops were flown in to provide routine backup security for the German contingent of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.
The row escalated in September, when diplomatic sources in the region said Mali wanted Ivory Coast to acknowledge its responsibility and express regret for deploying the soldiers.
Bamako also wanted Ivory Coast to hand over people who had been on its territory since 2013 but who are wanted in Mali, they said.
Ivory Coast rejected both demands and was prepared for extended negotiations to free the men, the sources said.
An Ivorian delegation travelled to Mali last week for talks on the crisis, and the Ivorian defence ministry said it was “on the way to being resolved”.
An agreement reached last week between Mali and Ivory Coast leaves the possibility open of a presidential pardon by Mali’s junta leader Assimi Goita, who is due to make a national address on Saturday.
On December 4, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) set New Year’s Day as a deadline for the soldiers’ release, failing which the bloc would impose new sanctions against Mali.