Hungary handed over Azeri killer aware of backlash risks: PM

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 11, 2012 12:01 PM
Hungary handed over Azeri killer aware of backlash risks: PM

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary knew its decision to hand convicted killer Ramil Safarov over to his native Azerbaijan would spark a diplomatic backlash from Armenia, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Tuesday.

Budapest released Safarov, a soldier, to Azerbaijan last month where Azeri President Ilham Aliyev pardoned him on arrival. Safarov had served eight years of a life sentence for killing an Armenian officer during a NATO-sponsored training session in Hungary in 2004.

Armenia immediately broke diplomatic ties with Hungary and said that releasing Safarov, who was given a hero's welcome on his return, was a "grave mistake".

Orban was asked at a news conference about a report by news portal, which said the prime minister had taken the decision despite being warned about the risks of such a move.

"There was coordination within the entire government about this," Orban said. "Each ministry presented its opinion, the justice ministry about the legal side and the foreign ministry about the diplomatic consequences."

Orban said he had then announced the decision personally in line with general procedure.

"The foreign ministry had forecast precisely what types of consequences this or the other decision may have. Nothing happened after our decision that we would not have reckoned with in advance," he added.

Hungary has said its actions were consistent with international law and that Azerbaijan had promised to uphold Safarov's sentence.

While the two countries were in talks about developing closer economic ties, these were in no way linked to the release of the soldier, the Hungarian government has said.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at odds since a war between ethnic Azeris and Armenians that erupted in 1991 over the mainly Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. A ceasefire was signed in 1994 but new cross-border clashes this year have raised fears of a resumption of fighting.

(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Andrew Osborn)