Ghukasian Stresses Karabagh?s Independence Not Open to Discussion after Talks with Mediators

YEREVAN (Armenpress/RFE/RL)–The president of Mountainous Karabagh Republic–Arkady Ghukasian–said that a resolution to the Karabagh conflict is still not in the cards–after talks in Yerevan with international mediators who are touring the region ahead of a meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The French–Russian–and US co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group met with President Robert Kocharian later in the day and will proceed to Baku on Thursday.

"I am of the opinion that we are pretty far from a settlement today," Ghukasian told reporters. "The co-chairs openly state that 2006 is an optimal time for settling the issue. But this is a mere desire."

He stressed–however–that Karabagh is an independent country and there is no turning back. "Karabagh will never become a part of Azerbaijan. The issue of Karabagh’s independence is not open to discussion."

The co-chairs refused to speak to journalists after meeting Ghukasian. Russia’s Yuri Merzlyakov said only that they are in a hurry to make unspecified oral proposals to Kocharian. The mediators are scheduled to hold a news conference in Yerevan on Thursday.

"There are no new proposals," said Ghukasian. "There are simply different versions of their approaches."

The parties have reportedly been discussing a phased settlement that would allow the predominantly Armenian population of Karabagh to decide the disputed region’s status in a referendum. The vote would presumably follow the liberation of all but one of the seven Azeri districts around Karabagh that were occupied by Armenian forces during the war.

On Wednesday–Ghukasian was confident that the Karabagh will eventually get involved in the ongoing peace talks between Baku and Yerevan. "Many issues have been left out of this negotiation framework and those issues need to be addressed," he said without elaborating.

"I don’t think that Robert Kocharian or anybody else can do this single-handedly," he added. "The conflict will not be settled secretly. If we agree on something–it will be presented to the people."

He also dismissed Azerbaijan’s war rhetoric–saying that no one–neither the government nor the people want the war to resume. "It is very important to generally exclude the option of war. The priority is to sign an agreement on peace."

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