By Emil Danielyan
An international organization dealing with exchange of prisoners of war has reportedly condemned the imprisonment of Azerbaijani soldiers who spent months in Armenian captivity and were subsequently accused by their government of spying for the Armenians.
One of the conscripts, Zaur Veysov, was sentenced to 14 years in prison on Monday after an Azerbaijani court found him guilty of high treason and breach of army regulations. According to the Turan news agency, Veysov served in a region in western Azerbaijan bordering Armenia and was captured by Armenian army infiltrators last year.
While in captivity, he was allegedly recruited by Armenian military intelligence and secretly cooperated with the latter after his liberation and until his arrest last June. It is not clear if he pleaded guilty to the charges.
Three other Azerbaijani servicemen were sentenced to 11 to 12 years' imprisonment on similar charges in September. They had been taken prisoner by Karabakh Armenian forces and are said to the have been kept in a Stepanakert prison for several months.
MPA, another Azerbaijani news agency, quoted on Wednesday the co-chairman of the International Working Group on prisoners of war and missing civilians in the zone of the Karabakh conflict as deploring the lengthy jail sentences. "We have been given different and even contradictory explanations [by the Azerbaijani authorities],” said Bernhard Clasen. He also chided the Karabakh military for keeping the three soldiers “for such a long time.”
Four Armenian soldiers who were captured by Azerbaijani forces last fall likewise faced prosecution after their liberation in January. Three of them were charged with willingly crossing the frontline east of Karabakh and “coming into contact with the enemy.” Military prosecutors said that constituted a serious violation of the Armenian military’s rules for combat duty.
The fourth soldier, Harutiun Azatian, disappeared from his army unit in northeastern Armenia in September 2004 under even more mysterious circumstances. The desertion accusation leveled against Azatian were subsequently dropped due to his poor health.
Prisoner-taking happens regularly along the heavily fortified Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the line of contact around Karabakh. Prisoner exchanges between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops are usually organized through the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC). The Red Cross announced on Tuesdau that it has negotiated the release of an Armenian citizen after detention in Azerbaijan
The handover took place on the road between the Azerbaijani town of Gazakh and the Armenian town of Ijevan, the Geneva-based agency said in a statement cited by he Associated Press. "ICRC delegates visited the detained person before the operation to ensure that he was returning home of his own free will," the agency said, without giving a name.