Armenian leader says Karabakh conflict unresolved

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Moscow (Russia) (AFP)

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unsolved when he met the leader of his country’s supreme enemy Azerbaijan on Monday in Moscow.

President Vladimir Putin hosted the heads of the two former Soviet states for a rare trilateral meeting and urged them to negotiate new measures in a November peace deal that ended weeks of fierce clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh contested.

But Pashinyan insisted on Monday that key issues surrounding the conflict were in limbo and must be addressed immediately.

“Unfortunately, this conflict is still not settled,” he told reporters after talks in the Kremlin that lasted nearly four hours.

Clashes in the mountainous region erupted in late September, relaunching fighting in territory controlled for three decades by separatists backed by Armenia.

More than 6,000 people, including civilians, were killed before a peace deal brokered by Moscow saw Armenia cede parts of territory it had controlled for decades to Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan said several questions remained unanswered, including the question of the future status of Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan.

He also said the meeting failed to resolve the “most sensitive and painful issue” of prisoners of war.

Armenia and Azerbaijan exchanged their first prisoners in early December, more than a month after the signing of the peace agreement.

However, it is not yet clear how many prisoners the two sides intend to exchange.

– Joint working group –

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, whose better-equipped army won, said on Monday that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict “remains in the past”.

The three leaders issued a joint statement on the Kremlin website announcing the establishment of a trilateral task force to oversee the “unblocking of all economic and transport links” in the region.

The group will be co-chaired by deputy prime ministers of the three countries and will hold its first meeting before January 30, the statement said.

At the start of the meeting, Putin thanked the two leaders for their cooperation with Russia’s mediation efforts aimed at “stopping the bloodshed, stabilizing the situation and achieving a lasting ceasefire.”

Putin said more than 48,000 people who fled Karabakh when the recent fighting broke out have returned since the peace agreement entered into force.

As part of the ceasefire agreement, Moscow has deployed nearly 2,000 peacekeepers to the region. They will stay there for at least five years.

Russia has also set up a joint monitoring center with Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, to oversee the implementation of the ceasefire agreements.

The United States, France and Russia co-chair the so-called Minsk negotiating group which for years has been negotiating the Karabakh conflict without reaching a lasting ceasefire.

Putin during a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday referred to the next trilateral meeting in order to “coordinate the actions” of the Minsk group, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Armenian separatists took control of Karabakh following a post-Soviet war in the 1990s that left around 30,000 dead and displaced many Azerbaijanis.

Nagorno-Karabakh proclaimed its independence from Baku but its autonomy has not been recognized internationally, not even by Armenia.

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