The Armenian army has expressed readiness to help military authorities in Baku locate and evacuate two Azerbaijani soldiers who reportedly went missing on Azerbaijan’s border with Armenia earlier this week.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that the two sergeants, Musa Musayev and Tural Yolchuyev, may have accidentally strayed into Armenia’s northern Tavush province from the Gazakh district in western Azerbaijan. It said it is investigating precise circumstances of their disappearance.
The Defense Ministry in Yerevan insisted afterwards, however, that no Azerbaijani soldiers crossed the heavily militarized Armenian border in the area.
“I can’t confirm or deny that there was an attempt to cross the border because that is possible and there are such precedents,” the ministry spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But I can state for certain that we are holding no Azerbaijani servicemen.”
Hovannisian also revealed that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICCR) told the Armenian military on Tuesday that the soldiers might have been lying dead or wounded in no man’s land and asked it for permission to evacuate their bodies. He said the Armenian side promptly gave security guarantees for such an operation.
According to Hovannisian, ICRRC officials suspect that Musayev and Yolchuyev hit a landmine near Armenian army positions in Tavush. “It may well be that those soldiers tried to flee to Armenia because of being unhappy with something,” added the official.
The ICRC office in Baku confirmed, meanwhile, that the Azerbaijani authorities have asked it help find the soldiers. The APA news agency quoted a spokeswoman for the office as saying that the ICRC is now engaged in “dialogue” with both sides in order to clarify the soldiers’ whereabouts.
In Hovannisian words, the Azerbaijani military launched no search and rescue operations at the Gazakh-Tavush section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier as of Wednesday afternoon.
The ICRC was rebuffed by Baku when it requested safe access to the remains of the three Armenian pilots of a combat helicopter shot down by Azerbaijani forces in no-man’s land east of Nagorno-Karabakh last November. Karabakh Armenian troops recovered them in an overnight commando raid. They claimed to have neutralized an ambush set up by Azerbaijani troops near the helicopter’s wreckage.