The anti-government gunmen holed up in a police station in Yerevan have agreed to free all four police officers held hostage by them, a retired army general negotiating with them said on Saturday.
Speaking to the Armenian TV station Shant, Vitaly Balasanian, a former military commander from Nagorno-Karabakh, said two rank-and-file policemen will be the first to regain their freedom.
The two other, high-ranking officers, Vartan Yeghiazarian and and Valeri Osipinian, will be set free later in the day, he said.
Balasanian said it was also agreed that shortly before Osipian’s and Yeghiazarian’s release Armenian security forces will ensure the presence of journalists at a “neutral zone” around the seized police compound. The journalists will work there “around-the-clock,” he added without elaborating.
A spokesman for Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) said afterwards that the two lower-ranking hostages were freed by noon. “The negotiation process is continuing,” Samson Galtsian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I can’t give any other information at this point in the interests of the negotiation process.”
Another source familiar with those negotiations said it that the agreement on the hostages' release was reached at a secret meeting between the two leaders of the gunmen and the NSS director, Georgi Kutoyan. The meeting was mediated by Balasanian
Balasanian did not specify whether the authorities are ready to meet the hostage-takers’ key demands: the release from prison of the jailed leader of their Founding Parliament opposition group, Zhirayr Sefilian, and President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.
Sarkisian on Friday urged the armed oppositionists to lay down their arms and give up themselves, saying that they cannot effect any political change in Armenia through violence.