By Ruzanna Stepanian
The Armenian military released and repatriated late Friday an Azerbaijani soldier captured this week -- the latest in a series of prisoner exchanges between the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Yerevan, Seyran Shavsuvarian, said the serviceman strayed into Armenian territory from his military unit in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan.
His quick release was apparently made possible by the liberation of two Armenian citizens, an army conscript and a 45-year-old civilian, by the Azerbaijani side earlier this week. Armenian military officials say the two men had unintentionally crossed into Azerbaijan from the northeastern Tavush region in separate incidents.
The Armenian side also released last week three Azerbaijani soldiers that had been taken prisoner in the northeast of Karabakh under uncertain circumstances three months ago.
The two parties have regularly exchanged prisoners of war since a Russian-mediated ceasefire agreement stopped their all-out war for Karabakh exactly 11 years ago. Such exchanges are usually carried out through representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Azerbaijan maintains that thousands of its citizens remain in Armenian captivity, a charge denied by the governments of Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. A top aide to Deputy Defense Minister Mikael Grigorian said on Friday that Yerevan has offered representatives of the Azerbaijani government and non-governmental organizations to visit Armenia and inspect all places where they think Azerbaijani prisoners might be kept.
“We are ready to ensure their security and take them to any location,” Ruben Gevorgian told RFE/RL. “But there has been no response from the opposite side.”
According to Gevorgian, as many as 463 soldiers missing and 484 civilians in Karabakh and Armenia are still unaccounted for. The Armenian side believes that some of them could still be alive, he said.