Karabakh to Begin Aerial Exercises

STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)–The Nagorno-Karabakh armed forces were scheduled to begin a three-week military exercises on Friday to test their combat readiness–the authorities said Thursday.

A statement released by the defense ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic said the maneuvers–that will be completed on October 15–are intended to "inspect co-ordination among various detachmen’s of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Defense Army" and enhance skills of its servicemen. There was no word as to the strength of forces involved and area of the exercises.

The exercises will coincide with local elections in Nagorno-Karabakh and a presidential election in Azerbaijan on September 27 and October 11 respectively. It is unclear whether their timing is connected with the two polls. A spokesman for the Nagorno-Karabakh foreign ministry said on Thursday that a democratic course of the Azeri election would improve prospects for a settlement of the decade-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. "A state that violates basic rights of its own people will hardly respect others’ rights," said the spokesman–Leonid Martirosian.

The defense ministry’s statement–for its part–argued that the high combat readiness of the Karabakh Armenian army is an important safeguard against renewed fighting with Azerbaijan. The war in Nagorno-Karabakh was stopped in May 1994 by a Russian-mediated cease-fire agreement which has largely been observed by the warring sides. However–no major progress has been registered so far in peace talks sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Spokesman Martirosian said on Thursday that the latest round of shuttle diplomacy by the OSCE’s Minsk Groups has left encouraging signs. He reiterated Stepanakert’s position–which is supported by Armenia–that a compromise solution should involve Nagorno-Karabakh giving up on the idea of outright independence from Azerbaijan and Baku dropping its insistence on a conventional autonomy status for the disputed region.

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