OSCE Minsk Group issues statement on Karabakh dispute

A long-standing dispute over Nagorny Karabakh, a breakaway region inside Azerbaijan with a predominantly ethnic Armenian population, has been a sticking point in relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The delegation heads, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, held discussions with the Azerbaijani and Armenian Foreign Ministers during an informal OSCE meeting in the Kazakh city of Almaty.

"The Heads of Delegation ... reminded the sides of their commitment to seek a peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict based on the principles contained in the Helsinki Final Act, particularly those related to refraining from the threat or use of force, the territorial integrity of states, and the equal rights and self determination of peoples," the statement said.

> Nagorno-Karabakh Map

The Ministers stressed that the efforts made so far by the parties to the conflict, were insufficient to overcome existing differences and expressed regret over recent developments that have exacerbated tensions in the region "including the serious armed incident of June 18-19, 2010 and inflammatory public statements."

An armed clash between Karabakh and Azerbaijani armed forces broke out on June 18-19, resulting in the death of five soldiers. It occurred in the north-eastern part of the contact line, near the village of Chily in the Martakert region.

The conflict first erupted in 1988, when the region claimed independence from Azerbaijan to join Armenia. The Minsk Group mediates the conflict.

A fragile ceasefire has been in place in the region since a brutal war between the two countries over the disputed enclave in early 1990s, which claimed more than 30,000 lives on both sides. Karabakh has since remained under Armenian control.

The OSCE Madrid principles, adopted in November 2007, envisage a stage-by-stage resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict that should start with the gradual liberation of parts of Azerbaijan bordering Karabakh that were partly or fully occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-94 war.

In return, Karabakh should retain a corridor to Armenia and be able to determine its final status in a future referendum.

In January, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on a preamble to an agreement on Nagorny Karabakh, revising and updating the Madrid principles. However, Azerbaijan later renewed threats of military action to retake the disputed region over a lack of progress at talks with Armenia.

Baku has fiercely opposed any decision on Karabakh that could be interpreted as giving the region independence from Azerbaijan.

In May, the region elected a 33-seat parliament with a voter turnout of almost 68%. Azerbaijani officials called the elections "illegal," saying they could seriously harm peace efforts.
RIA Novosti