US deputy secretary criticises Azerbaijan rights record

Agence France Presse
March 27, 2004 Saturday

US deputy secretary criticises Azerbaijan rights record

BAKU, March 27

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Saturday that
Azerbaijan’s human rights record needed improvement, during a visit
to the oil-rich former Soviet republic.

Speaking to reporters after talks with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham
Aliyev, and with opposition leaders, the senior US diplomat said:
“The situation with human rights could be much better. We hope that
it will improve.”

He added that he had told the Azeri president that the country’s
press and television should be allowed to operate free from

Human rights groups allege that Azerbaijan is illegally detaining
dozens of opposition activists — subjecting some of them to torture
— and that the government is suppressing freedom of expression.

Some critics say that the United States has muted its criticism in
light of Azerbaijan’s formidable Caspian Sea oil reserves, which will
soon be exported to international markets along a US-backed pipeline.

Armitage arrived in Azerbaijan late Friday from the neighbouring
republic of Armenia, where he also met officials. He left the Azeri
capital Saturday to return to Washington.

The Azeri president said he and Armitage had talked about energy
projects, military cooperation and Azerbaijan’s contribution to the
US-led war against international terrorism.

Azerbaijan is the only majority Muslim state to have so far sent
combat troops to Iraq to help the US occupation force there.