Armenia Azerbaijan Weapons Charge Exchange Escalates

TBILISI (Reuter) – Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other on Tuesday of amassing weapons along a cease-fire line separating them and said the build-up could ignite new fighting over disputed territory after a three-year truce.

Azeri Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov told parliament in Baku that Armenia had obtained missile systems capable of carrying out a nuclear attack on his country.

"These rockets have a radius of 190 miles and can be equipped with nuclear warheads," he told deputies. He did not name the missile systems.

An Azeri Defense Ministry official claimed the rockets were shipped to Armenia from Russia during the last two years–and that they had a long enough range to hit the capital Baku.

A Russian cabinet minister said last month that heavy armor–including tanks and combat vehicles– had been "illegally" supplied to Armenia in 1994-96.

Deputy Security Minister Galip Haligov said Yerevan had also taken delivery of 1,000 "Strela" shoulder-mounted–anti-aircraft systems from Russia. The Strela is a Russian-made version of the US-made "Stinger."

"These new weapon deliveries could lead to the resumption of hostilities and lead to the destabilization of the situation in the Transcaucasus," said Hasanov.

Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian countered by saying Azerbaijan was staging a build-up of arms along the tense border between the two countries.

He urged "increased contacts" with Azerbaijan "so that tension does not grow into violations of the truce."

Peace talks–mediated by Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe– are deadlocked and the prospects for a settlement seem as remote as ever.

Aman Tuliyev–Russian Minister for Cooperation with Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States–said last month that 84 T-72 tanks and 50 infantry combat vehicles had been transferred from Russia to Armenia between 1994-96.

Armenia denies having received the weapons.

"Taking this into consideration–the Foreign Minister of Armenia expresses his deep regret that Azerbaijan has not been able to resist the temptation of utilizing speculation in pursuit of its own political gains. The Foreign Ministry of Armenia is concerned with Azerbaijan’s behavior and is inclined to consider this recent approach as Azerbaijan’s intention to deviate from peaceful negotiations and begin a new military offensive," an Armenian Foreign Ministry statement asserted Monday.

"The Foreign Ministry of Armenia reports that since the cease-fire was established in Karabakh–Azerbaijan has been consistently violating the spirit of that cease-fire agreement–United Nations Security Council resolutions and decisions by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe," the statement continued.

Azerbaijan has loudly criticized the alleged shipmen’s as a violation of the cease-fire and says they destroy Russia’s credibility as a mediator in the peace negotiations.

Haligov said the flow of arms from Russia–which included the Strela rockets–was continuing. He said they were being shipped from Russia across the Caspian Sea and through Iran–before going over land to Armenia.

Spokesmen for Azeri President Gaidar Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Levon Ter-Petrosyan said the two leaders held a rare telephone conversation on Monday evening and that both pledged to continue to seek a peaceful settlement on Nagorno-Karabakh.

The two leaders also discussed the intolerability of resuming military operations and agreed to refrain from negative propaganda which could create tension and mutual mistrust. Both Presidents considered the upcoming conflict resolution within Minsk Group tri-chairmanship as very important.

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