France pledged on Friday to “do everything” to help the Armenian military gain unfettered access to the wreckage of its helicopter shot down by Azerbaijani forces and recover the bodies of its three crew members.
A top aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev accused, meanwhile, the French, Russian and U.S. mediators of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process of taking a pro-Armenian line in the wake of the helicopter’s downing.
“As a co-chair of the [OSCE’s] Minsk Group, France wants, from the humanitarian standpoint, the bodies of the three pilots of the downed helicopter to be handed over to Armenia. France will do everything to make that handover possible,” Jean-Francois Charpentier, the French ambassador in Yerevan, said in a written statement.
The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-heading the Minsk Group similarly urged Baku on Wednesday to “permit the recovery of the bodies of the victims.” In a joint statement, they said they remain “remain deeply concerned that there has been no humanitarian access to the crash site.”
The Azerbaijani ministries of defense and foreign affairs dismissed the statement the following day, saying that its wordings favor the Armenian side. Aliyev’s chief foreign policy advisor, Novruz Mammadov, went further on Friday, saying that the mediators acted at the behest of the Armenian lobby in the West. “The Armenian Diaspora is trying to deal a blow to Azerbaijan’s international reputation by any means,” Mammadov charged in a Twitter post cited by the APA news agency.
Meanwhile, Andrzej Kasprzyk, the head of an OSCE mission monitoring the ceasefire regime in the Karabakh conflict zone, travelled to Baku to discuss the issue with Azerbaijani officials. He held talks in Yerevan and Stepanakert earlier this week.
Kasprzyk and members of his team on Tuesday tried unsuccessfully to approach the crash site of the Mi-24 helicopter in the no man’s land in the Aghdam district east of Karabakh. The Azerbaijani military reportedly told them that it cannot guarantee their security.
The Karabakh Armenian army says that “intensive” Azerbaijani gunfire prevents its troops from recovering the bodies. According to its latest statement, Azerbaijani troops stationed nearby opened fire from not only assault rifles but also heavy machine guns and grenade launchers on the night from Thursday to Friday. The Karabakh army said its forces shot back to keep Azerbaijani soldiers from approaching the helicopter wreckage.
The Defense Ministry in Baku also reported overnight ceasefire violations at this and other sections of “the line of contact” around Karabakh.