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Ivory Coast on Tuesday demanded the release of 49 of its soldiers arrested in Mali, an incident that may worsen tensions between Mali’s military rulers and other West African nations amid efforts to quell an Islamist insurgency and restore democratic rule.

The Ivorian soldiers were arrested on Sunday at Mali’s main international airport in the capital Bamako.

Mali’s military government said the troops arrived without permission, that some of their passports indicated non-military professions, and that they gave differing versions of their mandate.

The junta said the soldiers would be considered mercenaries and charged as such, adding that Ivorian authorities were unaware of their arrival.

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