French President Suggests ‘Sanctions’ for Karabakh Truce Violations

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PARIS (RFE/RL) — France’s outgoing President Francois Hollande has reportedly spoken of the need for international “sanctions” against ceasefire violations in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Hollande expressed concern at a recent upsurge in deadly fighting along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh after talks held with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan in Paris late on Wednesday, March 8.

AFP quoted Hollande as saying that the conflicting parties should “avoid a repeat of the incidents that have erupted in recent weeks and months.” He also called for the introduction of “verification mechanisms” which would “prevent and even sanction actions that might be contrary to peace,” according to the French news agency.

Hosting a state dinner in Sargsyan’s honor later in the evening, Hollande emphasized the urgency of a compromise solution to the conflict which he said should be based on the so-called “Madrid principles” put forward by France, Russia and the United States.” “Nothing is as bad as the status quo,” the Armenian presidential press service cited him as saying.

Paris, Moscow and Washington have long been spearheading international efforts to end the Karabakh conflict in their capacity as co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group.

Truce violations in Karabakh intensified last month, involving mortars and other light artillery. At least five Azerbaijani soldiers were killed on February 25 in what Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army called Azerbaijani attacks at two sections of the “line of contact.” The Azerbaijani military denied launching incursions there, while admitting that its soldiers died in the no-man’s land just east of Karabakh.

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Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for a “de-escalation of the situation” in the conflict zone, saying that is essential for resuming “substantive negotiations” on a peaceful settlement. Lavrov said the two warring sides should take confidence-building measures that were agreed by the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in May and June 2016.

Those measures include the deployment of more OSCE observers and international investigations of armed incidents on the frontlines. Yerevan says that Baku is reluctant to implement these safeguards.

In an interview with AFP given ahead of the trip, Sargsyan accused the Azerbaijani leadership of blackmailing the Armenian side with threats to restart the Karabakh war.

He urged the American, French and Russian mediators to show Baku “what price one of the sides will pay if it initiates an attack.” “That will have a sobering effect,” he said.

The Armenian leader also said: “I don’t think a fresh war is an immediate threat, but nothing is ruled out when one deals with an unpredictable neighbor.”

Speaking at the presidential Elysee Palace, Sargsyan said that he and Hollande have nearly identical positions on French-Armenian relations and “events unfolding in our region.” He noted the two nations’ “support for each other on other very important international issues.”

France has long maintained a warm rapport with Armenia owing, in large measure, to the existence of a sizable and influential French-Armenian community.

Yerevan will underline these close ties when it hosts next year a summit of La Francophonie, a grouping of over 70 mainly French-speaking nations. Sargsyan said his government will use the yearlong preparations for the summit to further spread the French language and culture in Armenia.

During his latest trip to Paris, he also sought to attract more French investments in the struggling Armenian economy. Earlier on Wednesday, he met with members of MEDEF, France’s leading business association. He said after the talks with Hollande that French companies should use Armenia as a “platform” for doing business with Russia and neighboring Iran.