Mechanism in Place for Karabakh Military Withdrawal, Says Azerbaijan

YEREVAN (Yerkir)–According to Azeri deputy foreign minister Araz Azimov mechanisms to withdraw forces from the seven liberated territories around the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic are already in place.

“There already exist variants for the withdrawal of troops,” said Azimov Tuesday in an interview with BBC Russian Service.

“It is presumed that when an agreement is reached an accompanying timetable would stipulate that beginning at ‘x’ time the sides will exchange information about the military hardware,” explained Azimov, adding that the withdrawal of troops will begin immediately after this process.

The Armenian side should know, Azimov said, that there are guarantees in place that will ensure their safety. First, he said, was a guarantee provided by Azerbaijan and secondly, the process will be monitored by international forces. But Azimov did not specify what international force would be called to action in the region.

Earlier in February, the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization decided to establish a rapid reaction force that would transform the traditionally unorganized former Soviet military alliance into a NATO-like military organization with a peacekeeping mandate by the United Nations.

The CSTO Rapid Reaction Forces will operate in war time and during border conflicts in the former Soviet Union. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is among the many border conflicts left unresolved since the Soviet Union collapsed.

The current negotiations for a settlement of the conflict call for the return of most of those liberated districts and the deployment of an international peacekeeping force that neither the United Nations, NATO, nor the OSCE have the resources to manage. The ability to secure the region until Karabakh’s final status is set has been a determining factor in the ongoing Minsk Group mediated peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Although Azerbaijan is not a member of the CSTO, it has indicated that it is considering participating in the alliance and may even contribute troops to the rapid-reaction force to have a “say in the strength and deployment of the alliance.”

Azimov noted that after the withdrawal of forces a demilitarized zone would be created and will include Karabakh. He did not, however, address the previously discussed referendum to determine the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, saying only that such discussion would take place after “mechanisms are in place for the return of the Azeri community of Karabakh.”

“Unfortunately, we have not yet reached an agreement about the return of Azeri residents to the region,” announced Azimov.

He told the BBC Russian Service that Azerbaijan does not merely want the return of the seven liberated territories, but rather to reclaim all of the territory.

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