Armenia Reaffirms Plans to Join NATO Drills in Azerbaijan

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia reaffirmed on Thursday its plans to take part in the NATO-led military exercise in Azerbaijan this September–but appeared to have scaled back its participation–strongly opposed by many Azerbaijanis.

Armenian military officials had earlier said that they would like to participate not only with staff officers–but also with a platoon of combat troops–saying they did not want to be reduced to mere "observers."

But Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian told reporters that only five to seven officers will now participate in the "Cooperative Best Effort 2004" war games to be held within the framework of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. "We have been assigned concrete roles [by the organizers] and we will take part in the exercise in accordance with them."

Aghabekian clarified that Armenia has been given five slots in the NATO-led multinational force that will practice various peace-keeping tasks at an Azerbaijani military facility.

Final preparations for the drills were discussed this week at a conference in Baku attended by military representatives from the participating nations–including two officials from the Armenian Defense Ministry. The conference was overshadowed by angry protests against their arrival in the Azerbaijani capital which were staged by a local pressure group favoring a hard line on Karabagh.

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