EU asked to intervene in crisis in Caucuses

EU asked to intervene in crisis in Caucuses
18.05.2004 – 14:12 CET | By Andrew Beatty

EU Observer
May 18, 2004.

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – Amid threats of war, the president of
Azerbaijan today called on the EU to step up its involvement in
solving a 16-year old ethnic and border dispute with Armenia.

During a visit to Brussels, Ilham Aliyev asked the Commission
President, Romano Prodi, to help resolve the crisis in the southwestern
region of Nagorno-Karabakh that has seen the two countries at
loggerheads for more than a decade.

The territorial dispute has remained unsolved since the majority
Armenian population tried to secede after the break up of the Soviet

The ensuing war was thought to have cost 30,000 lives.

Although there has been relative peace since a ceasefire accord was
signed in 1994, it has been an uneasy truce and recently tensions
have appeared to be on the rise.

Before his visit to Brussels on Tuesday, Mr Aliyev was reported to
have remarked that another war with their Caucasian neighbours was
a possibility if ongoing talks fail.

In Brussels however he was more conciliatory – just.

“Azerbaijan intends to continue its policy to peaceful resolution
of the conflict, but at the same time this resolution must be on the
recognised principles of international law, the territorial integrity
and sovereignty of Azerbaijan”, he said.

At the table

Talks are currently being shepherded along by the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk group lead by the Russian
Federation, the United States and France.

And with six other EU countries participating in the process, there
is reluctance on the part of the EU to be seen to be undermining
its members.

“We are worried that the peace process is stopped”, Mr Prodi said
today, before adding, “Clearly we do not want to interfere with the
Minsk Group but we are urging and pushing that the Minsk Group has
some result”.

But the Azeri government now wants a bigger role for the EU, something
which has the potential of stepping on the toes of the European
members of the Minsk Group.

President Ilayev said, “Of course the Minsk group will also actively
continue its activity in finding a resolution, but at the same time
Azerbaijan is very strongly interested that other important European
organizations; first of all the European Union, would take a more
active stand”.

And as Brussels recently decided to include Armenia, Georgia and
Azerbaijan in the ‘European Neighbourhood Policy’ – which aims to
deepen ties with countries bordering the Union – the Commission may
seem to be cautiously edging towards playing a greater role.

But the Commission’s attempts to deepen ties have brought critics.
Mr Aliyev came to power in last October’s elections, replacing his
father, amid allegations of widespread election fraud and the EU has
been accused of turning a blind eye to the poor human rights situation
in the country, because it is seeking to tap into the countries vast
oil reserves.