BAKU (Agence France Presse)–OSCE mediators are exploring how to finance the return of Azeri refugees displaced by the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh–they announced here at the end of a tour of the region.
Azerbaijan’s President Haydar Aliyev hailed the proposal as a "new stage" in talks to settle the country’s 10-year dispute with Armenia over the enclave.
Carey Cavanaugh from the OSCE told Aliyev Tuesday that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had held "serious discussions" with international institutions on how to restore regions affected by the conflict.
Cavanaugh is one of three co-chairmen of the OSCE’s Minsk Group–which oversees negotiations between Baku and Yerevan.
"And it is also a sign that we see the prospect of a potential solution as being not that distant," he added after he and his French and Russian counterparts completed a three-day swing of Azerbaijan–Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.
Cavanaugh also said that the group had traveled for the first time to inspect areas currently controlled by Armenia’s outside of Karabakh.
"We thought it was important to get a very good idea of what needs to be done in the occupied territories to make them ready for people to return," he said.
Aliyev welcomed the proposal as evidence that the OSCE was serious about reaching a final peace deal. "Finally a concrete conversation is taking place to resolve the issue," he said.
"Your mission opens a new stage in the negotiations," Aliyev continued. "I see that you regard the situation with a new attitude. I hope now that we can quickly move forward."
Aliyev’s commen’s were in sharp contrast to earlier statemen’s where he criticized the co-chairmen for lacking initiative and failing to come up with any new proposals.
It was the mediators’ first trip to the region in three months and the first since gunmen burst into the Armenian parliament in October and killed the country’s prime minister and parliament speaker.
The incident put on hold peace negotiations between Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian–who had held numerous meetings and appeared to be moving towards a compromise.
Baku and Yerevan fought a six-year undeclared war over Nagorno Karabakh–a mostly ethnic Armenian enclave which declared independence from Baku in 1988 and tried to unite with Armenia proper.
Peace negotiations have failed to produce a final settlement. Azerbaijan insists on giving a high level of autonomy to the Karabakh Armenia’s–while Armenia is holding out for full independence for the region.