Armenia Warns of Azeri War Preparations

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on Tuesday that Azerbaijan may be preparing for another war in Mountainous Karabagh–and revealed that Azeri troops have moved closer to Armenian positions along the heavily militarized frontline in recent weeks. He said the Armenian government has already alerted international mediators about what it sees as a possibility of renewed fighting.

"They have been bringing their trenches closer to ours and more casualties are suffered as a result," Oskanian told reporters. "We just don’t see the rationale for that and are starting to think that maybe they want to torpedo negotiations; maybe they have serious intentions to start military actions."

The remarks are the starkest yet warning about a resumption of the Karabagh war voiced by a senior Armenian official since the signing of the May 1994 ceasefire agreement. They follow recent deadly skirmishes reported along the line of contact northeast of Karabagh–with each side blaming the other for truce violations.

"The Armenian army is ready to give an adequate response to any Azerbaijani offensive," Oskanian said. He added that Armenia has conveyed its concerns to the United States–Russia–and France that jointly co-chair the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Azeri leaders regularly threaten to take by force Karabagh and territories surrounding–if the long-running peace talks remain deadlocked. "The people of Azerbaijan will never put up with the loss of their lands," President Ilham Aliyev repeated over the weekend. "The people will liberate their native lands at all costs."

Addressing a congress of the governing Yeni Azerbaycan party–Aliyev at the same time claimed that recent trends in the peace process bode well for Azerbaijan–pointing to recent meetings between Oskanian and Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.

Oskanian and Mammadyarov were due to continue their talks in Prague on March 2. They were cancelled due to Oskanian’s illness. Mammadyarov was quoted by the Azerbaijani media this week as saying that the meeting will take place at the end of April.

But Oskanian insisted that no new dates have been set yet. He also indicated that a possible meeting in May between Armenian and Azeri presidents would be far more important. "We believe that quite a lot of work has been done by the ministers and it is time for the presidents to step in," he said.

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