Government Ponders Development Plan for Meghri

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The government moved on Thursday to underscore its commitment to Armenia’s southeastern Meghri district–discussing a package of measures to spur economic recovery in the strategically important area bordering on Iran–which has been an object of speculations about a possible land swap with Azerbaijan.

The issue topped the agenda of the cabinet session–with ministers debating a comprehensive program on job creation and social security in Meghri. The program was drafted under the previous prime minister–Aram Sargsyan. The current premier–Andranik Markarian–said it needs further discussions in corresponding ministries which should then come up with "concrete ways of its realization" and sources of funding.

Over the last several months President Robert Kocharian has been accused by his political opponents of preparing to cede Meghri to Azerbaijan in return for international recognition of Armenian sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Officials have said the idea was last year floated by some international mediators–but they rejected it out of hand. The government initiative to improve living conditions in the economically depressed district aims to disprove critics’ claims. Sandwiched between Azerbaijan and its Nakhichevan exclave–Meghri is Armenia’s sole overland link with Iran–cementing close ties between the two countries.

As part of its economic package–Markarian’s cabinet gave the official go-ahead for the opening of a wholesale and retail market near the main crossing point on the Iranian border. The market will enjoy a more favorable trade regime. Armenian firms wishing to do business there will have to be registered in Meghri.

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