Azerbaijan, Armenia back peaceful resolution of Karabakh

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Armenia and Azerbaijan held talks Saturday on the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region, signalling their wish to resolve the conflict peacefully after tensions heightened in recent months.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev released a statement stating their intention to "resolve all controversial questions in a peaceful manner" after meeting in Sochi.

They agreed to hold joint investigations of skirmishes along the ceasefire line, which killed at least 22 soldiers last year, under the aegis of the Minsk group of the OSCE, chaired by France, Russia and the United States.

They also agreed to complete a swap of prisoners of war and to return the bodies of soldiers killed during the conflict, a deal that they agreed at their last summit in October.

The peaceful rhetoric came after Azerbaijan repeatedly threatened to use force to win back Karabakh if peace talks did not yield results, while Armenia has warned of large-scale retaliation if Baku launches military action.

Azerbaijan's defence minister said last month that his country was preparing for war with Armenia to "liberate its territories."

The Armenian president said in January that his country was prepared to fight its neighbour again to defend the region, which is controlled by Armenian separatists.

The conflict goes back to the early 1990s when ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Armenia seized control from Baku in a war that left an estimated 30,000 dead.

Armenian and Azerbaijani forces are spread along a ceasefire line in and around Nagorny Karabakh, often facing each other at close range, and shootings are common.


© 2011 AFP

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