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By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert

The authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said Tuesday that an
Armenian-Azerbaijani peace accord on the disputed territory is unlikely to be reached before the end of this year, as was predicted earlier by some international mediators. The conflicting parties have yet to bridge their differences on several major issues hampering a solution to the 13-year dispute, Arkady Ghukasian, president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told reporters in Stepanakert. He did not elaborate on those differences.



The remarks follow the postponement of the next round of peace talks between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The summit, originally slated for mid-June in Geneva, was widely expected to produce a framework agreement on the resolution of the conflict.

French, Russian and U.S negotiators leading the international peace effort now say they need more time to work out all details of their new peace plan and to allow Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders to prepare their publics for a compromise. The chief French negotiator, Philippe de Suremain, told RFE/RL on Monday that despite the delay, the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group remain optimistic about chances of an imminent peace settlement.

Ghukasian, however, was on Monday more skeptical about the success of the peace process, saying that the mediators, currently working on the new Karabakh plan, fill find it extremely hard to find a solution acceptable to both parties. The Karabakh leader accused Baku of trying to roll back recent months' progress in the peace process by adopting what he termed a "destructive" stance.

He reiterated Stepanakert's position that Karabakh Armenians will never agree to return under Azerbaijani rule. "This region needs peace and stability. Azerbaijan will remain our neighbor and we should cooperate with it. But there should be no doubt that we will not forego our independence," Ghukasian said.
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