Azerbaijan’s FM lifts veil on Nagorno-Karabakh talks

Azerbaijan’s FM lifts veil on Nagorno-Karabakh talks

Date:01 May 2004 0136 hrs (SST)

BAKU : Azerbaijan and Armenia, which are locked in conflict over the
disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, are discussing a deal under
which Armenian forces would cede territory in exchange for the
re-opening of a rail link between their two countries, the Azeri
foreign minister said.

“We are discussing various ideas, including the option of opening the
railway with Armenia in exchange for it pulling back from the seven
districts of Azerbaijan it has occupied,” Foreign Minister Elmar
Mamedyarov told reporters.

He added: “The subject of our negotiations right now is how ready the
sides are to make compromises.”

The railway-for-land swap was initially proposed by the European Union
as a way of resolving the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which has
poisoned relations between the two former Soviet republics for more
than a decade.

Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a war over the mountainous enclave in
the early 1990s which left some 35,000 people dead and forced a
million others on both sides to flee their homes.

A ceasefire was signed in 1994, leaving Armenian forces in de facto
control of the enclave. But the war has never been formally declared
over. Peace talks to find a lasting solution have faltered, despite
mediation by the international community.

The remarks by the Azeri foreign minister partly lifted the veil on
peace talks which are being held in strict secrecy. Details of what
the two sides are discussing are very rarely revealed to the public.

Western governments are keen to see a lasting solution to the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They say it is a source of instability in a
region which is taking on strategic importance for the West as an
export route for oil from the Caspian Sea.

Mamedyarov said the next round of talks would be in the French city of
Strasbourg on May 12, when he is to meet Armenian counterpart Vardan
Oskanian on the sidelines of a Council of Europe meeting.

He said they would pick up the discussions started by Azerbaijan’s
President Ilham Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian,
who met for talks this week while attending a conference in the Polish
capital, Warsaw.

“In Warsaw there was a useful exchange of views between the presidents
and our aim is to continue that dialogue,” said Mamedyarov.

The railway line under discussion has been closed ever since the
conflict first flared up, some 15 years ago. It remained shut after
the fighting ceased as part of an economic blockade imposed by

It links Armenia to Azerbaijan and also to Russia, a key Armenian ally
and trading partner. The re-opening of the route would ease the impact
of the economic blockade on Armenia.

The seven districts which figure in the proposed deal are not part of
Nagorno-Karabakh. They were seized by Armenian forces during the war
to provide a buffer zone against a possible attack by Azeri troops.