Mali's military-led government said on Thursday it was temporarily suspending troop rotations by the U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSMA, days after arresting 49 soldiers from Ivory Coast who it said had arrived in the country without permission.
Mali's ruling junta, which seized power in an August 2020 coup, has repeatedly butted heads with many of its traditional partners following sanctions and condemnation over election delays and its security cooperation with Russian mercenaries.
When the U.N. Security Council renewed MINUSMA's mandate last month, Malian authorities vowed to defy U.N. calls to allow freedom of movement for peacekeepers to investigate human rights abuses.
The suspension of troop rotations for the nearly 12,000-strong mission will remain in place until Malian officials can organise a meeting with MINUSMA representatives to discuss coordination between the two sides, Mali's foreign ministry said in a statement.
The United Nations called for an "urgent settlement" after the suspension was announced and said it was ready for immediate discussions to resolve the matter.
"Rotation of contingents is crucially important for the mission's operational effectiveness and the safety and security of personnel," deputy U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York, adding that some of the affected staff should have been relieved several months ago.
The Ivorian troops were arrested after arriving on Sunday at the capital Bamako's international airport. Mali's junta said the soldiers would be considered mercenaries and charged as such.
Ivory Coast says the soldiers were deployed as part of a security and logistics support contract signed with the mission in 2019 and that they were the eighth rotation sent to Mali under the convention.
A MINUSMA spokesman initially confirmed this information, but a U.N. spokesman in New York later said no Ivorian troops had been deployed under the convention.
Mali is struggling to rein in an Islamist insurgency, which took root after an uprising in 2012 and has since spread to neighbouring countries, killing thousands and displacing millions across West Africa's Sahel region.