BAKU (Itar-Tass)–The settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh–based on three principles approved by the OSCE summit in Lisbon in December 1996–will be gradual–President Gaidar Aliyev said on Monday.
Aliyev noted that such a gradual approach is also based on the new proposals put forth by the Russian–US and French co- chairmen of the Minsk Conference and the Minsk Group of the OSCE for Nagorno-Karabakh.
He said that "six districts of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenian forces will be liberated at the first stage." These are the Kelbajar–Zangelan–Dzhembrail–Fizuli–Kubatly and Aghdam districts in the southwest and west of Azerbaijan where more than 500,000 refugees and displaced persons are hoped to return.
Further steps in the settlement of the conflict will be connected with the restoration of economic ties which linked the two Transcaucasian republics before the conflict broke out years ago.
At first all routes and pipelines between the two republics will operate under the control of international peacekeeping forces–the number and composition of which have yet to be agreed.
The final stage of conflict settlement calls for the liberation of the cities of Shushi and Lachin and the districts under the same names located in Nagorno-Karabakh and in the southwest of Azerbaijan on the Armenian border respectively. The status of Nagorno-Karabakh will be determined at the same time.
Aliyev stressed that "our country will never grant Nagorno- Karabakh independence."
Speaking about the return of Armenian refugees to Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani refugees to Armenia–he noted that this issue has not so far been discussed either by the two countries or mediators.