Former Karabagh Army Chief Released From Jail

STEPANAKERT (RFE-RL)–Samvel Babayan–the controversial former commander of Mountainous Karabagh’s army–was pardoned and set free on Friday more than four years after being imprisoned on charges of plotting to assassinate the president of the Armenian-populated republic–Arkady Ghukasian.

An official in the Karabagh government said that Babayan–39–was in a group of local convicts who were given an amnesty by a presidential decree. The official added that the amnesty granted to the once powerful general is a "partial" one–meaning that he will be on a one-year probation.

He is legally barred from holding a senior government post in Karabagh for the next five years.

A former car mechanic–Babayan became the commander of the Karabagh Armenian army from 1991-1994 during its war with Azerbaijan.

Babayan lost power in late 1999 after his defeat in a bitter power struggle with Ghukasian. He was arrested in March 2000 just hours after an attempt on the life of the Karabagh president and was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment a year for masterminding the plot. Also sentenced were the two men who confessed to seriously wounding Ghukasian in a late-night ambush in Stepanakert.

It is not yet clear who initiated Babayan’s sudden release from a fortress jail in the Karabagh town of Shushi. Kocharian public hinted at the possibility of a pardon in November 2001. But Ghukasian has until now argued that Babayan does not qualify for an amnesty because he has not admitted his guilt.

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