Azerbaijan blacklists British mine-clearance charity

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Azerbaijan on Friday said that it had blacklisted a respected British-based mine-clearance charity because it has been working in the disputed territory of Nagorny Karabakh.

The head of Azerbaijan's National Agency for Mine Action said that the Halo Trust charity, which has been clearing landmines in Karabakh for more than a decade, had been banned from the country.

"We said that this organisation must stop activity in the occupied territories and apologise to Baku. But they haven't done it," the Azerbaijani state agency's director, Nazim Ismayilov, told local media.

Some of the charity's equipment that was on its way to Afghanistan via Azerbaijan was also temporarily impounded, he said.

Baku regards Karabakh as occupied by ethnic Armenian forces who have controlled it and several surrounding regions of Azerbaijan since they defeated the Azerbaijani army during the war there in the 1990s.

The conflict left a huge landmine problem, and the Halo Trust says it has cleared "over 50,000 landmines, cluster munitions and other items of unexploded ordnance" in Karabakh since 2000, according to its website.

Over the past year, Baku has stepped up efforts to highlight its claim on Karabakh, blacklisting several foreign journalists who have visited the territory without its permission.

Azerbaijan insists that Karabakh must not be allowed to secede, but Armenia says that the territory must never return to Baku's control.

© 2011 AFP

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