Armenia, Azerbaijan agree to prisoner swap at Russia summit

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Arch-rivals Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed at a summit in Russia Wednesday to swap prisoners of war and exchange the bodies of soldiers killed in their conflict over the breakaway Nagorny Karabakh region.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced the deal to "urgently exchange prisoners of war and carry out the return of victims' bodies" after a summit in the city of Astrakhan with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, the Interfax news agency reported.

It was not immediately clear how many prisoners or bodies would be involved in the exchange.

There was, however, no immediate mention of progress in resolving the two countries' longstanding dispute over Karabakh, where ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan broke from Azerbaijani control during a war in the early 1990s that left 30,000 dead.

Armenia on Tuesday had accused Azerbaijani forces of killing an ethnic Armenian soldier in a bid to disrupt the summit talks.

Armenia's defence ministry said in a statement that a 20-year-old soldier with Karabakh's defence forces had been killed after Azerbaijani forces opened fire along a ceasefire line. It accused Baku of "destabilising the situation" before the summit.

Tensions over Karabakh have been increasing this year amid stalled peace talks, with the number of deadly skirmishes along the ceasefire line on the rise for months.

At least 20 soldiers on both sides have been reported killed in clashes this year, including eight soldiers killed last month alone.

© 2010 AFP

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