By Emil Danielyan
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has resumed its regular monitoring of ceasefire along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border which was disrupted by a shooting incident last week, the Armenian government said on Friday.
The ministries of defense and foreign affairs said in separate statements that an OSCE observer team led by Polish diplomat Andrzej Kasprzyk inspected on Thursday the two armies’ frontline positions in a mountainous area straddling Armenia’s northeastern Tavush region and the Qazakh district in western Azerbaijan.
“Mr. Kasprzyk expressed his satisfaction to the two sides for successfully organizing and holding the monitoring,” the Armenian Defense Ministry said.
The routine procedure, involving radio communication between two groups of observers deployed both sides of the militarized frontier, took place several dozen kilometers away from the site of the previous OSCE inspection marred by an Armenian-Azerbaijani skirmish. It led Kasprzyk to cut short the monitoring. In a statement late last week, he called for a “thorough investigation” into the clash which each party blamed on the other.
“It was not possible to determine whether the firing came from the Armenian or Azerbaijani side or both,” Kasprzyk said.
The Armenian authorities revealed that during Thursday’s monitoring they returned a herd of 78 sheep and 12 cows belonging to farmers of a nearby Azerbaijani village. According to the Azerbaijani side, the cattle were stolen by Armenians. The Foreign Ministry in Yerevan did not confirm or deny this, saying vaguely that they were “deliberately herded into Armenian territory.”
“This step by the Armenian side was assessed as a manifestation of good will aimed at strengthening mutual trust,” the ministry’s statement said.
Tavush and other border regions are located hundreds of kilometers away from the main Armenian-Azerbaijani frontline around Nagorno-Karabakh, the main bone of contention. Although fighting there has been less intense and bloody than in Karabakh, the unresolved conflict continues to have crippling effects on scores of people on both sides of the long frontier. Tens of thousands of hectares of arable land and pastures can not be used because of being littered with landmines and kept under fire by enemy troops.
The situation is unlikely to improve markedly without a solution to the Karabakh dispute which remains intractable despite years of internationally sponsored peace talks. The negotiating process, mediated by the OSCE’s Minsk Group, was put on hold late last year in anticipation of presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The group’s American, French and Russian co-chairs are now awaiting the October 15 vote in Azerbaijan which is widely expected to formalize the transfer of power from ailing President Heydar Aliev to his son, Ilham.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Dziunik Aghajanian, told RFE/RL that no date has yet been set for the troika’s next shuttle diplomacy and that it does not plan to tour the zone of conflict before the election. Aghajanian denied Azerbaijani reports that the mediators are currently working on a new peace plan. She said they might only incorporate “new ideas” into the existing proposals which, according to the Armenian side, are based on agreements reached by Aliev and President Robert Kocharian in 2001.
(Photolur photo: U.S.-trained Armenian sappers demining border areas in Tavush with the help of sniffer dogs.)