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France Insists On Removal Of ‘Syrian Mercenaries’ From Karabakh


France -- French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (R) and his Armenian counterpart Ara Ayvazian hold a jont news conference after talks in Paris, December 8, 2020.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reiterated his country’s calls for the withdrawal of all “Syrian mercenaries” from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone after meeting with his Armenian counterpart Ara Ayvazian in Paris late on Tuesday.

Le Drian also said that France will remain actively engaged in international efforts to kick-start Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks following the Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped the recent war in Karabakh.

“A ceasefire is not an accord, it’s the end of a war,” he told a joint news conference with Ayvazian. “We think that we need a lasting solution to this conflict, notably on the questions relating to the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh, its administrative [border] delimitations, mode of governance. Under the auspices of the co-presidency of the OSCE Minsk Group, France will assume all its responsibilities to achieve that.”

“France will stand with Armenia in order to accompany it on this trajectory,” he said.

Le Drian cited a joint statement to that effect which he, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun issued on December 3.

The top diplomats of the three world powers co-heading the Minsk Group urged the conflicting parties to “commit to substantive negotiations to resolve all outstanding issues.” They also called for the parties’ full compliance with all provisions of the ceasefire agreement.

In that regard, Le Drian singled out the return of all refugees and internally displaced persons, protection of religious and cultural sites and “the departure of the Syrian mercenaries deployed with one of the conflicting parties.”

French President Emmanuel Macron accused Turkey of recruiting jihadist fighters from Syria for the Azerbaijani army shortly after the outbreak of large-scale hostilities in and around Karabakh on September 27. Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army claimed last month to have captured two such Syrian fighters during the fighting.

Turkey has denied sending members of Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups to fight in Karabakh on Azerbaijan’s side. Azerbaijan also denies the presence of such mercenaries in the Azerbaijani army ranks. Both Ankara and Baku accuse Paris of pro-Armenian bias.

Speaking after the talks with Le Drian, Ayvazian thanked France for its “courageous and at the same time impartial position adopted since the beginning of the war.” The Armenian foreign minister also praised Macron for speaking out against “Turkey’s extremely damaging and dangerous involvement in the war.”

Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, a secretary of state at the French Foreign Ministry, visited Yerevan late last month. He said after talks with Armenian leaders that Paris expects Ankara to “remove the mercenaries from the region.”

Lemoyne arrived in the Armenian capital with a delegation of French officials, aid workers and French-Armenian community activists on a board a plane that brought a second batch of French humanitarian assistance to Armenian victims of the Karabakh conflict. It mainly consisted of medical supplies for Armenian soldiers and civilians wounded during the war.

Le Drian announced on Tuesday that two more planeloads of French humanitarian aid will be delivered to Armenia in the coming days. “In the medical field, we are going to reinforce cooperation between Armenian and French hospitals,” he added.

France is home to a sizable and influential Armenian community. The latter was instrumental in the recent passage by both houses of the French parliament of resolutions calling on Macron’s government to recognize Karabakh as an independent republic. The government has ruled out such recognition, saying that it would be counterproductive for France and the Karabakh negotiating process.

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