Each soldier held a small Ivorian flag and smiled as he shook hands with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara who was waiting to greet the 46 soldiers at Abidjan airport.
Forty-six Ivorian soldiers held in Mali for six months and sentenced to 20 years in prison have arrived in Abidjan, a day after a pardon by the neighbouring country's junta.
After their Ivorian air force plane landed on Saturday at 11:40 pm [local time], the uniformed soldiers disembarked one by one, each brandishing a small Ivorian flag, to be greeted by President Alassane Ouattara, the AFP news agency reported.
Their return signals the apparent resolution of a diplomatic standoff between the West African neighbours that also worsened Mali's already tense relations with regional powers.
Citing a commitment to peace and dialogue, Mali's junta late on Friday pardoned the soldiers, who had been arrested for allegedly attempting to undermine state security.
READ MORE: Dozens of Ivorian soldiers head home after pardon from Mali coup leader
Plane carrying 46 Ivorian soldiers recently pardoned by Mali's junta lands at Ivory Coast's Abidjan airport pic.twitter.com/AWVJp3TFcO— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) January 7, 2023
The soldiers were arrested in July at the airport in Mali's capital Bamako.
At the time the Malian authorities said the troops were acting as mercenaries, while Ivory Coast said they were part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali.
The trial opened in the capital Bamako on December 29 and concluded the following day.
Mali has grown increasingly isolated since military officers toppled the government in 2020 and failed on election promises, prompting sanctions from West Africa's main political and economic bloc ECOWAS.
Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe mediated in the row and had paid a "friendly working visit" to Bamako on Wednesday.
READ MORE: Mali pardons Ivory Coast troops convicted of 'conspiracy' against Bamako