Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed early in the morning to halt two-week hostilities in the conflict zone for these “humanitarian purposes.” A joint statement released by the foreign ministers of the two nations as well as Russia said this will be done “with the mediation and in accordance with the criteria” of the ICRC.
The Red Cross pledged to “offer technical advice to the sides so that the dead are identified in accordance with international humanitarian law, and then facilitate the return of bodies.”
“We are in regular discussions with the sides and expressed our readiness to engage in further discussions on the nature of the involvement of the ICRC to support the return of detainees and human remains, including the logistics and security guarantees for our teams,” Martin Schuepp, the ICRC director for Eurasia, said in a statement.
The head of the ICRC office in Yerevan, Claire Meytraud, met with Armenian Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan to discuss practical modalities of retrieving the corpses of dead soldiers and arranging possible prisoner exchanges.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said the process will be coordinated with authorities in Karabakh. It gave no other details of Tonoyan’s meeting with Meytraud.
As of Saturday evening, there were no reports of similar contact between ICRC officials in Baku and the Azerbaijani military.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov said earlier in the day that “conditions have not yet been put in place” for the start of these operations.”
The warring sides accused each other of continuing to violate the ceasefire as the Russian-mediated agreement came into force at noon. Tensions on along the Karabakh “line of contact” appeared to have eased in the following hours.
The Geneva-based ICRC already helped the sides recover the bodies of their fallen soldiers following four-day hostilities around Karabakh in April 2016.
“At that time, thanks to the coordinated efforts, it was possible to handover all the deceased to their families and thus avoid adding new names on the already existing list of more than 4,500 people still unaccounted for since the conflict started in 1992,” noted the Red Cross.
The latest Karabakh war broke out on September 27 and has left at least several hundred soldiers as well as dozens of civilians from both sides dead.