OSCE peace envoys in Azerbaijan for talks

Agence France Presse — English
July 16, 2004 Friday 3:21 AM Eastern Time

OSCE peace envoys in Azerbaijan for talks


International envoys helping to mediate a peace deal between Armenia
and Azerbaijan in a conflict over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh
said Friday they had held useful talks with Azerbaijan’s President
Ilham Aliyev.

The trio of envoys from France, Russia and the United States which
make up the so-called Minsk Group, were in the Azeri capital, Baku,
after a round of meetings with officials in Armenia.

The mediators refused to disclose any of the details of their talks,
saying only they remained committed to helping find a peaceful
solution to the 15-year-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly
Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan.

“We have just come from a very cordial and useful meeting with
President Aliyev,” US mediator Steven Mann told a press conference.

“We will remain active in fulfilling the Minsk Group’s mandate …
which is to support discussions and negotiations between the two
sides,” Mann added.

“We believe that a peaceful resolution to the conflict is possible
and we believe that peaceful ways are the only ways that this
conflict can and must be settled.”

Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a four-year war over the enclave of
Nagorno-Karabakh, which cost an estimated 35,000 lives and forced
about one million people on both sides to flee their homes.

A ceasefire was agreed in 1994, leaving Armenian forces in de facto
control of the enclave and surrounding Azeri regions. Azerbaijan has
said it is determined to force Armenian troops out of the territory.

Peace talks have been taking place intermittently for 10 years, under
the mediation of the Minsk Group, to hammer out a permanent solution.

But an agreement has proved elusive and insiders say that negotiators
are as far from a deal now as they have been at any point in the
peace process.

In Azerbaijan, which sees itself as the victim of the conflict, there
is growing frustration about the failure to reach a deal, with many
people calling for a return to hostilities.

Criticism has also been targetted at the Minsk Group, which is
operating under a mandate from the Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe.

The envoys said Friday they were being made “scapegoats” for the
failure to find a lasting settlement to the conflict, but that they
would not give in to their critics.

“Whether you like us or not, whether you agree or not with the
format, you will have to face our three faces,” French envoy Henry
Jacolin told reporters.

The unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is destabilising a
region which is taking on increasing strategic importance for the

A multi-billion-dollar pipeline is being built, with Washington’s
backing, to export crude oil from Azerbaijan’s sector of the Caspian
Sea, through Georgia and Turkey, to the Mediterranean Sea.

In places, the pipeline will pass within a few kilometres (miles) of
the tense front line separating Armenian and Azeri forces, the scene
of frequent firefights.