Reports from Baku said that local representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) met with the six prisoners of war (POWs) last week to clarify whether they would like to be covered by a prisoner exchange agreed by the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents on October 27.
According to Shahin Sailov, head of an Azerbaijani government commission on POWs, civilian captives and missing persons, they told the Red Cross officials that they want to be deported to a third country. The Trend news agency quoted Sailov as saying that the POWs can therefore not be repatriated.
Some of the POWs have been shown by Azerbaijani television saying that they deliberately surrendered to Azerbaijani forces to escape hazing and poor conditions in Armenia’s and Nagorno-Karabakh’s armed forces. The Armenian military has questioned the sincerity of these claims.
A spokesman for the ICRC office in Yerevan, Ashot Astabatsian, refused to comment on Sailov’s claims. He said the ICRC’s contacts with prisoners in all conflict zones are strictly confidential.
Sailov’s Armenian opposite number, Armen Kaprielian, insisted that the Azerbaijani claims are a “propaganda ploy.” “I can talk about people whom we managed to get out of Azerbaijani captivity in the past,” he said. “There were cases where the Azerbaijani side blackmailed and forced our compatriots to make such statements in meetings with representatives of international structures.”
The Armenian and Azerbaijani sides have already exchanged the bodies of several soldiers and civilians who died in the Karabakh conflict zone in recent months. As part of the October 27 agreement, Armenia has also freed an Azerbaijani civilian detained about a year ago.
“I don’t think that the statement by my Azerbaijani opposite number will give positive impetus to this unfolding process,” Kaprielian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Nevertheless, we are ready to continue cooperation with the Azerbaijani side.”