The armed forces of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh remain prepared to withdraw snipers from their frontline positions in order to bolster the ceasefire regime in the Karabakh conflict zone, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said on Thursday.
“We constantly express our readiness not to breach the truce and withdraw snipers but the leadership of Azerbaijan, their military command refuse to do the same,” Ohanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
International mediators have repeatedly called for sniper withdrawal by both Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. They say this would significantly reduce deadly ceasefire violations that are reported from the main Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh on a regular basis.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon added his voice to those calls in a statement issued in September 2010.
The idea is backed by the Armenian side but opposed by Azerbaijan. An Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman last year called it “yet another ploy” by the Armenians. “Snipers mostly operate on the Armenian side,” he said.
Two Armenian soldiers were shot dead near Karabakh at the weekend by what the military authorities in Stepanakert described as sniper fire from Azerbaijani army positions. The Armenian military pledged to respond “disproportionately” to their deaths.
Ohanian reaffirmed that pledge. “The leadership of the [Karabakh] Defense Army is thinking about that and will take appropriate measures to counter such actions by Azerbaijan,” he said. “Measures that will force them to refrain from sniper fire.”
In a related development, the Armenian Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday that the U.S., French and Russian mediators co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group will arrive in Yerevan on Monday at the start of a fresh round of Karabakh shuttle diplomacy.
The diplomats most recently toured the conflict zone late last month. They said after that trip that the conflicting parties agreed in principle to a “draft mechanism to investigate incidents along the front lines” which was proposed by the troika.