BAKU: Azerbaijan on Saturday handed over to Armenia 15 prisoners of war captured during last year’s hostilities over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, the foreign ministry in Baku said.
The ministry also said that under the deal mediated by Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, Yerevan reciprocated by providing Baku with maps of minefields in the conflict zone.
Fighting broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia in September 2020 over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, claiming some 6,000 lives over six weeks.
The war ended in November with a Russian-brokered ceasefire that saw Yerevan cede swathes of territory it had controlled for decades.
On Saturday, “Azerbaijan handed over to Armenia 15 detained Armenians in exchange for the map of 97,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines in the Agdam district,” one of the territories Armenia has ceded to Baku, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The ministry also thanked the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, top US diplomat for Europe Philip Reeker, the European Council President Charles Michel, and the OSCE Swedish chairmanship for their role in negotiations.
Garibashvili’s office said in a statement that the “captive Armenian troops were transported from Azerbaijan to Georgia and then sent to Armenia”.
“An important step has been made towards the amelioration of security environment in the South Caucasus region,” the statement said.
A senior EU diplomat said Charles Michel “has been in close contact with Armenia and Azerbaijan on addressing pressing humanitarian issues, namely parallel humanitarian gestures” prior to the deal announced on Saturday.
“The President of the European Council Michel welcomes this as a first step towards renewing confidence, an effort the EU is ready to fully support.” The mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh is one of the most heavily mined places in the former Soviet Union.
Seven Azerbaijani troops and 18 civilians have died and 110 more been wounded by landmines in and near Nagorno-Karabakh since the ceasefire, the Azerbaijani government has said.
Both Azerbaijani and Armenian forces used the weapons during a bloody conflict in the early 1990s.
Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan around the collapse of the Soviet Union in the conflict that claimed 30,000 lives.
Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2021