Nagorno-Karabakh: separatists surrender weapons and negotiate troop withdrawal

Armored vehicles of the Russian peacekeeping contingent leave the Nagorno-Karabakh region towards Armenia, near the village of Kornidzor, September 22, 2023. Photo REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Nagorno-Karabakh separatists are due to agree on Saturday with Azerbaijan to withdraw their troops from the predominantly Armenian-populated region and continue to hand over their weapons three days after a truce with Baku.

Having been defeated in Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive, the separatists must continue to surrender their weapons throughout the weekend. According to the Russian peacekeeping contingent, on Friday they had already returned six armored vehicles and more than 800 small arms and ammunition. While thousands of civilians continue to face a humanitarian emergency in this region of the Caucasus.

“In accordance with the agreements on the cessation of hostilities, the armed formations of Karabakh began to transfer their weapons and military equipment to the control of Russian peacekeeping forces. As of September 22, six units of armored vehicles, more than 800 units of light and anti-tank weapons and about 5 thousand ammunition were transferred,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement. However, they will continue negotiations with the Azerbaijani side “under the auspices of Russian peacekeepers,” said the authorities of the separatist territory, which capitulated on Wednesday after a lightning offensive by Azerbaijani forces. This should allow “to organize the process of troop withdrawal and ensure the return to their homes of citizens displaced as a result of military aggression,” they continued in the press release. The parties are also discussing “the procedure for the entry and exit of citizens” from this region, the separatists added. Moscow also reported two violations on Wednesday’s ceasefire, fewer than the day before.

On Thursday, separatists began negotiations with Azerbaijani officials about the “reintegration” of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan. Baku then said that a new meeting would take place “as quickly as possible.” This mountainous territory has already been the scene of two wars between the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia: one from 1988 to 1994 (30,000 dead) and another in the fall of 2020 (6,500 dead).

“Terrible situation”
The separatists’ statement comes at a time when, according to them, the “capital” of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert, is surrounded by the Azerbaijani army. “The situation in Stepanakert is terrible, Azerbaijani troops are everywhere in the city, they are on the outskirts,” local government spokeswoman Armine Hayrapetyan assured AFP, adding that people were hiding “in caves.” According to an AFP correspondent on the spot, Stepanakert is deprived of electricity and fuel. Its residents, who cannot find their missing loved ones due to a lack of lists of the dead and wounded, also lack food and medicine.

Germany called on Friday evening for the necessary respect for the rights of residents of Nagorno-Karabakh. “The rights and security of the people of Karabakh must be guaranteed to achieve a lasting solution to the conflict,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said after a telephone conversation between the German leader and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

According to Azerbaijani Presidential Adviser Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan promised the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to send aid and care to wounded separatist soldiers, and ambulances were allowed to travel from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenian separatists said the Azerbaijani military operation, which ended in 24 hours at noon on Wednesday, left at least 200 people dead and 400 injured.

“Individual violations”
In the Lachin corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia but blocked for more than nine months by Azerbaijan, men waited Friday for the return of relatives stranded in the region near one of the last checkpoints. Armenian army. “I waited three days and three nights. I sleep in the car,” Garik Zakarian, 28, told AFP as he sought news from his son-in-law and mother-in-law, who he hopes will be quickly evacuated.

Accused of passivity towards Azerbaijan, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan admitted on Friday that the “situation” remains “tense” in Nagorno-Karabakh, where a “humanitarian crisis continues.” But “there is hope for positive dynamics,” added the head of government, for whom the truce between the Armenian separatists and Baku that came into force on Wednesday is “generally” being observed.

People hostile to Pashinyan demonstrate daily in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, to protest the executive’s management of the crisis. Several opposition leaders have announced their intention to initiate proceedings in parliament for the resignation of the head of government.

According to Armenian police, 98 protesters were arrested on Friday.

Mr Pashinyan calls for calm and to take the “path” to peace, even if it is “not easy”. The Azeris’ military success is fueling fears that many of Nagorno-Karabakh’s 120,000 residents will flee, although Armenia has promised no mass evacuation is planned. However, it said it was prepared to accept “40,000 families” of refugees.

Source: L Orient Le Jour

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