Forty-six Ivorian troops whose detention by Mali has triggered a bitter diplomatic row reportedly appeared for trial at a court in Bamako. The news follows a "friendly working visit" by Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe, who is mediating the ongoing dispute.
The French press agency AFP said the soldiers had been brought before an appeals court in the run-up to a 1 January deadline set by West African leaders for Mali to release the soldiers or face sanctions.
However Ecowas leaders have said they will not proceed with sanctions.
Forty-nine troops from Cote d'Ivoire were apprehended upon their arrival at Bamako airport on 10 July to provide backup security for a UN peacekeeping mission. Three women soldiers were freed, but later sentenced to death in absentia.
A Malian court last month sentenced the troops, accused of being "mercenaries", to 20 years in prison despite the threat of sanctions.
Call for a pardon
The Malian presidency said in a statement on Wednesday that Gnassingbe had held a "working session" with junta leader Assimi Goita.
An official at the Malian presidency, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that Gnassingbe had called for a "presidential pardon" for the troops, before heading back to Abidjan.
A Malian appeal court official said the soldiers would undergo a "special trial" on Thursday after the case was submitted by military investigators.
"The Bamako court of appeal will be trying the 46 Ivorian soldiers who were arrested with weapons at Bamako airport on July 10," the official said.
In his New Year's address, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara promised that the imprisoned soldiers "will soon return to Ivorian soil".
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