BAKU, (AP) - Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev asked U.S. President George W. Bush on Thursday for help in resolving the conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.
"I highly appreciate your position on the question of the quickest, just resolution of Azerbaijan's most difficult and protracted problem," Aliev wrote in a letter marking
the tenth anniversary of diplomatic ties between his former Soviet republic and the United States.
"I want to express certainty that through joint efforts we will soon achieve peace, occupied Azerbaijani land will be liberated, and refugees will return to their homeland."
Nagorno-Karabakh has been under control of ethnic Armenian forces since 1994, the end of a war that killed some 30,000 people and forced about a million to flee their homes. Azerbaijani soldiers and Nagorno-Karabakh forces face off across the no-mans-land around the enclave and small shooting incidents break out sporadically. Internationally mediated peace negotiations, in which the United States has played a leading role, have stalled.
In Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, officials said Thursday that 15,000 hectares (37,050 acres) of mostly agricultural land were still mined following the war. According to the Halo Trust, a British demining organization, more than 9,700 mines were removed from Nagorno-Karabakh in 2000 and 18,675 last year.
Mels Hakobjanian, the chairman of the Nagorno-Karabakh demining commission, said that the number of mine victims in the enclave had been falling steadily since fighting ended. He attributed the progress to demining and a mine awareness program organized and funded by the Halo Trust.