Azerbaijan Suspends Karabakh Search Mission Indefinitely

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia on February 23 again accused Azerbaijan of “artificially” delaying the release of Armenian soldiers and civilians remaining in Azerbaijani captivity more than three months after a Russian-brokered ceasefire stopped the war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The ceasefire agreement calls for the unconditional release of all prisoners held by the conflicting sides. Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in Karabakh have arranged several prisoner swaps over the last two months.

A total of 64 Armenian prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians have been freed to date. More than 100 others are believed to remain in Azerbaijani captivity.

Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan said Baku’s reluctance to free them constitutes a serious violation of the truce agreement and hampers the resumption of Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks.

“We are committed to the resumption of the settlement process but there must first and foremost be formed an environment conducive to peace. Prerequisites for that are not yet visible on the Azerbaijani side,” he said at a meeting with members of a standing committee of the Armenian parliament.

Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Ayvazyan said that Baku is facing growing international pressure to release the remaining Armenian prisoners.

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“As expected, Azerbaijan’s policy of creating artificial obstacles to the return of prisoners is slowly becoming a headache for Azerbaijan,” he claimed. “We hope that Azerbaijan will abandon this policy of hostage taking and will immediately solve this important humanitarian issue.”

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reportedly raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they last spoke by phone on February 17.

The Russian ambassador to Armenia, Sergei Kopyrkin, insisted on Tuesday that Moscow keeps doing its best to secure the release of all Armenian captives. “The work is not easy but it continues to be carried out persistently,” Kopyrkin told journalists.

In addition, PanARMENIAN.Net reported that search and rescue operations in Nagorno-Karabakh have been suspended indefinitely after the Azerbaijani side failed to authorize the mission on Monday, February 22, Karabakh authorities report.

No explanation was given for Azerbaijan’s refusal to allow the Karabakh rescue teams to search for the bodies of the victims of the recent war in territories under Baku’s control, the Karabakh Emergency Service said Monday.

The process was first halted on February 15 and has not been resumed.

 

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