Nagorno-Karabakh’s leadership said on Thursday that it has not yet agreed to an international fact-finding mission to Armenian-controlled territories surrounding the disputed enclave.
The American, French and Russian diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group said on Monday that they are planning a “field assessment mission to observe the humanitarian situation” in seven districts in Azerbaijan proper that were fully or partly occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war.
In a joint statement, the mediators said they will tour those areas “between late September and mid October.” Representatives of the Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other international bodies will also take part in the mission, said the statement.
“We are not against the idea in principle,” Davit Babayan, Karabakh President Bako Sahakian’s spokesman, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “But there are still some technical issues and our final position will probably be clarified soon.”
“We are looking into the matter,” Babayan said without elaborating on those issues. He made clear that the mission can not go ahead without the Karabakh Armenians’ consent.
The Minsk Group co-chairs are likely to have discussed the issue with Sahakian during their visit to Stepanakert on Wednesday. They said in their September 6 statement that their planned trip to the occupied and mostly deserted territories was agreed with all conflicting parties n principle “before summer.”
An OSCE team led by a senior German diplomat already inspected those territories in January-February 2005 to investigate Azerbaijani claims that they have been illegally populated by Armenians. In a subsequent report, the mission said it found “no evidence of direct involvement by the authorities of Armenia in the territories.” “There is no clear organized resettlement, no non-voluntary resettlement, no recruitment,” concluded the report.
The 2005 inspection was organized as a result of a compromise agreement between the conflicting parties and the mediators. The deal prevented a vote in the UN General Assembly on an Azerbaijani draft resolution condemning the decade-long occupation.
It is not clear whether the second fact-finding visit sought by the mediating troika is connected with a similar resolution which Baku is now trying to push through the General Assembly. The latter was scheduled to discuss and vote on the document later on Thursday. Both Armenia and Karabakh have warned that its passage would seriously harm Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks mediated by the Minsk Group.
Meanwhile, the group’s co-chairs ended on Thursday their latest tour of the conflict zone in Yerevan with talks with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian. Official Armenian sources gave few details of the talks.
Sarkisian’s office said the Armenian leader and the visiting envoys agreed that ceasefire violations in Karabakh “reflect negatively on the negotiating process.” A separate statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Nalbandian discussed with the mediators their “forthcoming actions.”