Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Monitoring of Karabakh cease-fire suspended

This was originally published in December 15, 2007 Armenian Reporter.

by Emil Sanamyan

Azerbaijan accused of obstructing the confidence-building measure
WASHINGTON – International diplomats have stopped their regular monitoring of the cease-fire in Karabakh, after Azerbaijan refused to issue routine permission, it has emerged in recent weeks. Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, a Polish diplomat who heads the monitoring effort on behalf of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), confirmed that “no monitoring on the Line of Contact (LOC) has taken
place” since last summer.

In an e-mail response to the Armenian Reporter on December 13, Ambassador Kasprzyk said that “in summer 2007, the Azerbaijani [Foreign Ministry] objected to the OSCE receiving official written correspondence from the NK [Nagorno Karabakh] authorities. “Since our monitoring on the LOC require security guarantees from both sides in written form, and the NK authorities insist on official correspondence as was the case until now,” the effort has been suspended, said the diplomat.

The cease-fire has held in Karabakh since May 1994. Amb. Kasprzyk and his staff have been in charge of its monitoring since July 1996.

Cease-fire threatened?
The Economist first reported on November 28 that the regular monthly or fortnightly visits have stopped “after a diplomatic dispute.” The last such visit was reported by Nagorno Karabakh’s Foreign Ministry to have taken place on July 10 of this year and in two-week intervals in preceding months.

Incidentally, the Azerbaijani démarche, which is part of its overall policy to exclude NKR from the peace process, coincided with the presidential election in Nagorno Karabakh and subsequent personnel changes in the NKR government.

During the OSCE ministerial meeting in Madrid on November 29, diplomats from France, Russia, and the United States who co-lead mediation in the Karabakh peace process issued a statement that said, “the parties have been asked not to obstruct the resumption of OSCE monitoring on the Line of Contact.”

While the co-chairs, as is their custom, did not blame either party for the suspension, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian of Armenia, also speaking in Madrid, noted that it is “Azerbaijan’s willful obstruction of international envoys entrusted with monitoring the conflict and the region [that] is threatening to upset the fine balance that we have sustained.”

While at least one serious skirmish was reported since the suspension of the monitoring, similar incidents have occurred in the past as well. During the more than 13 years of the cease-fire, several hundred soldiers are believed to have been killed on each side in ceasefire violations. (Editor’s note: An article in last week’s Reporter incorrectly estimated that total such deaths since the 1994 cease-fire have surpassed 4,000. We regret that error.)

“The general situation on the LOC remains relatively calm and stable,” said Amb. Kasprzyk, “although cease-fire violations continue and casualties have been reported on both sides, several on each side so far this year.” He expressed regret that “so far it has not been possible to remove the obstacles for the monitoring which might have saved peoples’ lives.”

Sides return captured civilians
In a positive development this week, a Karabakh Armenian civilian who was captured and held in Azerbaijan for eight months was finally released, news agencies reported.

Two Azerbaijani civilians captured in Karabakh and Armenia’s Tavush province, in August and November respectively, were turned over to Azerbaijan in an exchange organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Azerbaijani government previously claimed that Valeri Suleimanian, 49, who together with his wife and children lives in Martuni, did not want to be repatriated. That claim came months after three Azerbaijani soldiers defected to the Armenian side. While two of them were since returned and subsequently imprisoned on “treason” charges in Azerbaijan, one applied for political asylum and remains in Yerevan.

Mr. Suleimanian’s release became possible after Azerbaijan captured a 23-year-old Armenian army conscript, Hambartsum Asatrian, last August. Azerbaijani officials now claim that Mr. Asatrian does not want to return to Armenia.

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