Armenia considers vote on recognizing separatist enclave

AP News
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Posted: May 05, 2016 9:11 AM

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Armenia's government gave the go-ahead on Thursday to legislation that calls for recognizing the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, a separatist region which is officially part of neighboring Azerbaijan.

The government, which has blocked similar previous proposals, agreed for the first time to send such legislation to Parliament. However, the step appeared intended mainly as a warning to Azerbaijan following a sudden increase in fighting.

Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan said the legislation would only be brought to a vote if Azerbaijan launched new attacks, while political analysts warned that recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh's independence could lead to a new war. A parliamentary session was called for Tuesday.

Clashes in April marked the worst violence since a separatist war ended in 1994, leaving Nagorno-Karabakh under the control of local ethnic Armenian forces and the Armenian military. Armenian forces also occupy several areas outside the Karabakh region.

About 75 soldiers from both sides were killed in April, along with several civilians, before a Russian-brokered cease-fire stopped the worst of the fighting. But fears loom of a possible escalation, with Turkey strongly backing Azerbaijan and Russia obliged to protect Armenia by a mutual security pact.

Azerbaijan condemned the Armenian initiative, which it said was aimed at scuttling international peace talks.

Peace talks under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, co-sponsored by Russia, the United States and France, have dragged on for two decades without producing any visible results.

The Kremlin said Thursday it was monitoring the situation closely.

"We as before are counting on both sides of the conflict to avoid any steps that could destroy the rather fragile cease-fire and lead to an escalation of tensions in Karabakh," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.