The return of the soldiers signaled a clear solution to the bitter diplomatic standoff between Mali and Ivory Coast.
Forty-six Ivory Coast soldiers accused by Mali of being mercenaries have returned home after six months in captivity.
Troops arrived at Ivory Coast’s Abidjan airport late on Saturday, a day after receiving amnesty from the military ruler of Mali.
Their arrest in the Malian capital Bamako last July sparked a bitter diplomatic war between the neighbours.
Mali accused them of being mercenaries, while Ivory Coast said it flew in to provide regular backup security for the German team on a UN peacekeeping mission.
Getting off the plane home on Saturday, each soldier held a small Ivory Coast flag and smiled as they shook hands with Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who was waiting for them at the airport.
“Now that this crisis is over after us, we can resume normal relations with our brother country Mali,” said Ouattara when they were all on Ivory Coast soil.
A spokesman for the soldiers thanked Ouattara and “the people of Ivory Coast for their active support and solidarity”.
“We are very happy and relieved to be back in our motherland,” he said.
They were released a few days after a trial in Bamako sentenced them to 20 years in prison on charges of conspiring against the Malian government and seeking to undermine national security. The three women, who were among 49 people initially arrested at the airport and released earlier, received death sentences in absentia.
The sentences were delivered ahead of a January 1 deadline set by leaders from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for Mali to free the soldiers. or face sanctions.
But on Friday, Mali’s military leader, Assimi Goita, pardoned all 49 people.
Mali’s government cited a memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries “on the promotion of peace and the strengthening of friendship, brotherhood and good neighborliness between the Republic of Mali and the Republic of Ivory Coast”. .
It also thanks Togo President Faure Gnassingbe, who mediated in the dispute.
Relations between Mali and its West African neighbors have been strained ever since. Goita leads a coup against elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020. The country’s new rulers initially promised elections last February but then announced a four-year delay, weeks before the vote.
The move reminder tough ECOWAS sanctions in Mali crippled the country’s economy.
Sanctions has been removed in July when Bamako proposed a 24-month transition to democracy and promised a new electoral law.