Armenia, Azerbaijan leaders may meet on Karabakh truce next week
Leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan could meet next week in Vienna to discuss a fragile truce in the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region after the worst clashes in decades, mediators said Thursday.
Top diplomats from the United States, Russia and France, who are spearheading efforts to end the decades-long feud, are expected to participate in the talks aimed at strengthening a tenuous ceasefire hammered out by Moscow.
"A meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan is being planned for next week," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
If the meeting between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian takes place, it would be their first face-to-face encounter since a surge in fighting last month that killed some 110 people and sparked fears of a return to full-scale war.
"In light of the recent violence and the urgency of reducing tensions along the Line of Contact, we believe the time has come for the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to meet," said a statement from the OSCE's so-called Minsk Group, headed by Russia, France and the US.
"Our foreign ministers are prepared to facilitate this meeting next week in Vienna."
The meeting would aim to reinforce the ceasefire, build confidence between Yerevan and Baku and "create favourable conditions for resuming negotiations on a comprehensive settlement," the Minsk Group said.
Speaking to AFP, diplomatic sources in the Armenian capital of Yerevan said the talks could take place in Austria on Monday.
"It is possible that the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet in Vienna on May 16," a source said.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a festering feud over the breakaway region of Nagorny Karabakh after Armenian separatists seized the territory from Baku in a bloody conflict in the early 1990s.
The two sides never signed a definitive peace deal despite a 1994 ceasefire and have regularly exchanged fire across the volatile frontline, but last month's violence represented an unprecedented spike.
Karabakh has declared itself independent but it has not been officially recognised by any country, including its main backer Armenia.
Both sides have been rearming heavily in recent years and the sudden escalation in fighting saw the parties ramping up the rhetoric, accusing each other of fuelling the conflict.
© 2016 AFP