Azeri Leader Appeals for Support in Karabakh Peace

BAKU (combined sources)–Azerbaijani President Haydar Aliyev made an emotional appeal on February 25 for help to resolve a 13-year-old conflict with neighboring Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh. Aliyev–who earlier rejected international peace proposals–was speaking at the end of two days of debates in parliament during which he also warned against a military solution that could take a heavy toll in lives.

"Whoever can help us in this issue will be highly valued by the state," Aliyev said–adding that a solution had to be found that took state interests parliamentary and public opinion into account.

"The proposals of the Minsk Group are unacceptable. They have already gone into the past–and it is impossible to return to them," he said in an address on February 24 that was boycotted by the nationalist opposition.

The Minsk Group peace proposals were offered by the United States–Russia and France–co-chairs of a group which first met in Minsk–the Belarussian capital–to seek a Karabakh peace deal under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Under negotiating rules–details of the plans were never formally made public. Aliyev called on the Minsk Group to come up with alternative proposals recognizing a high level of autonomy for Karabakh–while keeping it as part of Azerbaijan.

Aliyev is due to meet Armenia’s President Robert Kocharyan in Paris on March 3-5–but the Azeri leader denied rumors that a peace agreement would be signed.

At the end of the parliamentary hearings–the Azeri legislature approved Aliyev’s position on the conflict and said it would consider peace proposals from political parties and groups within the next two weeks.

Azerbaijan suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Armenian forces in the 1988-94 war over Azerbaijan’s mainly ethnic-Armenian Karabakh province.

"If our society decides that a military solution to the problem is needed–I will agree. But let these people first explain how we should wage such a war," Aliyev said. "Azerbaijan has a strong army. But what would be the consequences of such a war? How would the international community respond?" he said. "Our seven districts are under occupation–but to free them–how much blood must be shed?"

Aliyev–a Soviet-era communist boss–came to power in 1993 after military defeats prompted the army to launch a coup. He has restored peace and stability to Azerbaijan and won billions of dollars in oil contracts–but his critics say he has done little to recover Armenian-occupied territory or help the plight of some 800,000 refugees from the conflict.

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