Karabakh Rules Out Return of Territories

STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)–The Nagorno-Karabakh authorities on Tuesday joined Armenia in rejecting any return of occupied Azeri territories before a final resolution of the decade-long dispute with Azerbaijan.

A spokesman for Armenian President Robert Kocharian denied on Monday reports that Yerevan and Baku are holding secret talks on returning five districts in Azerbaijan proper as a first stage of the settlement.

Interfax news agency had quoted unnamed government sources in Baku as saying that Yerevan has offered to ensure the pullout of Karabakh Armenian forces from the occupied lands in exchange for a reopening of Azerbaijan’s border for transit of Armenian cargoes.

"These territories came under control of the Karabakh defense army as a result of the Karabakh-Azeri war. Their fate must be decided in the full context of the conflict’s settlement–along with [a determination of] Nagorno-Karabakh’s status," a spokesman for the defense ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic told RFE/RL.

Sources in the Karabakh foreign ministry said the Interfax report is "groundless."

The Russian agency said on Saturday that the issue was touched upon by the Armenian and Azeri defense ministers at a meeting in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on April 12.

The Karabakh defense spokesman’said the government in Stepanakert is "not informed about details of the meeting."

The most recent peace plan–drafted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and accepted by the Armenian side–proposes settling all sticking points by a single peace accord. Azerbaijan has rejected the document–saying that it does not guarantee its sovereignty over Karabakh.

Kocharian and his Azeri counterpart Haydar Aliyev are scheduled to meet in Washington later this week during official celebrations of NATO’s 50th anniversary. The Karabakh issue will top the agenda of the meeting–reportedly arranged by the US government. US diplomats have said direct contacts between the conflicting parties may break the deadlock in the peace process.

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