Armenia and Azerbaijan exchange prisoners

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 11:29 AM
Armenia and Azerbaijan exchange prisoners

BAKU (Reuters) - Azerbaijan and Armenia on Thursday exchanged prisoners detained by the two sides after the conflict over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, in a gesture of good will between long-term foes.

Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Muslim Azerbaijan with the support of Christian Armenia as the Soviet Union fell, but the past two years have seen the worst clashes on its border since the 1994 ceasefire ended war, which killed more than 30,000.

"Azerbaijan gave Armenia one civilian back, while the Armenian side released one military serviceman," Ilakha Guseynova, a spokeswoman for International Red Cross Committee office in Baku said.

She said the exchange, the first one this year, took place in Azerbaijan's Agdam region, which has been controlled by the Armenian side since the conflict.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan pledged at a meeting in Russia on March 5 to complete prisoner exchanges that had been agreed earlier.

The Armenian side is holding two Azeri military servicemen, while Azerbaijan has one Armenian serviceman and six civilians, according to the International Red Cross Committee. The majority of them were detained recently.

Armenia says Azerbaijan is holding six Armenian military servicemen, not one. The dispute between neighbors remains a threat to stability in the South Caucasus, an important route for oil and gas supplies from the Caspian region to Europe.

Years of mediation led by Russia, the United States and France have failed to resolve the conflict.

(Reporting by Lada Yevgrashina; writing by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)