Armenia condemns Karabakh 'blockade' ahead of peace talks

AFP , Thursday 13 Jul 2023

Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Thursday urged international unity against Azerbaijan's "illegal blockade" of the Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh, and announced fresh EU-mediated peace talks with Baku.

Armenian-populated breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region
A view of an Azerbaijani checkpoint recently set up at the entry of the Lachin corridor, the Armenian-populated breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region s only land link with Armenia, by a bridge across the Hakari river on May 2, 2023. AFP


Azerbaijan said this week it was temporarily shutting the only road linking its breakaway region to Armenia, accusing the Armenian branch of the Red Cross of smuggling.

The move sparked concerns over a humanitarian crisis in the restive enclave, which is experiencing food shortages and where locals lack access to health services, according to separatist authorities.

Pashinyan on Thursday denounced what he said was an "illegal blockade" of Karabakh, saying it contradicts a ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The UN's top judicial body ordered Azerbaijan in February to ensure free movement along the Lachin Corridor, Karabakh's sole land link with Armenia.

"As far as the illegal blockade of the Lachin Corridor and the deepening humanitarian crisis are concerned, the binding ruling of the ICJ creates a possibility for a greater international consolidation to prevent Azerbaijan's policy of ethnic cleansing in Karabakh," Pashinyan said.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting, he also announced the next round of peace talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev would be held on Saturday in Brussels under the mediation of European Council President Charles Michel.

"I confirmed my participation in the meeting, and I hope we will achieve progress in our talks on a peace treaty."

An EU official said the trilateral meeting -- the sixth in nearly two years -- would cover humanitarian issues, border delimitation, the peace treaty and rights and security of Karabakh Armenians, and connectivity.

"We consider the leaders-level engagement essential to promote peaceful settlement and to prevent escalation," the official said in Brussels, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The two former Soviet republics have fought two wars for control of Karabakh, in the 1990s and again in 2020.

Six weeks of fighting in autumn 2020 ended with a Russian-sponsored ceasefire agreement that saw Armenia cede swathes of territories it had controlled for decades.

Under the deal, the five-kilometre-wide Lachin Corridor was to be manned by Russian peacekeepers to ensure free passage between Armenia and Karabakh.

Pashinyan has complained about "problems" with Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh.

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