Fri, 19 Apr 2019

The Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers have agreed to press ahead with efforts to end the conflict over Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, but no major progress was evident after a meeting in Moscow.

The April 15 talks between Zohrab Mnatsakanian and Elmar Mammadyarov were hosted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and attended by the Russian, French, and U.S. co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group, which leads diplomatic efforts to resolve the protracted dispute.

Mnatsakanian and Mammadyarov 'reaffirmed the intention of the parties to continue their efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through political and diplomatic means,' a statement posted on the OSCE website said.

The ministers 'emphasized their interest in further stabilization of the situation in the conflict zone, in particular during agricultural activities,' it said -- an apparent reference to the spring sowing season and possibly the harvest later on.

There has been a significant decrease in cease-fire violations around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in recent months.

Nagorno-Karabakh, which is populated mainly by ethnic Armenians, declared independence from Azerbaijan amid a 1988-94 war that claimed an estimated 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Since 1994, when a cease-fire agreement was reached, it has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces that Baku says include troops supplied by Armenia. No country has recognized it as an independent state.

At the talks in Moscow, the sides agreed to take measures 'on a mutual basis' to give relatives of people held in custody by both sides access to their loved ones, the statement said.

It said that Mnatsakanian and Mammadyarov 'expressed their willingness to start concrete work on establishing contacts between people,' including through mutual visits by journalists, and that all participants agreed to 'continue their contacts in the near future.'

Igor Popov, Stephane Visconti, and Andrew Schofer are the current Russian, French, and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE's Minsk Group.

Years of negotiations have not resolved the conflict.

On March 29 in Vienna, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev held their first meeting under the auspices of the Minsk Group.

Yerevan and Baku described the talks as 'positive' and 'constructive,' saying the sides had agreed to strengthen the cease-fire regime in the conflict zone and continue their dialogue.

The March summit was the fourth face-to-face encounter in six months between the long-ruling Aliyev and Pashinian, a former opposition lawmaker who became prime minister of Armenia in May 2018 after leading protests that pushed his predecessor out.

With reporting by Interfax and TASS

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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