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Armenia, Azerbaijan Begin Prisoner Swap


NAGORNO-KARABAKH -- Armored vehicles of Russian peacekeepers move along the road towards Agdam from their check point outside Askeran, November 20, 2020

Armenia and Azerbaijan exchanged on Monday the first groups of prisoners under a Russian-brokered deal that stopped the war in Nagorno-Karabakh last month.

Armenian officials said a Russian plane carrying 44 Armenian prisoners landed at Yerevan’s Erebuni airport late in the evening. It was not immediately clear if the group included only soldiers or also Karabakh Armenian civilians that were held in Azerbaijani captivity.

“Additional information about the returned prisoners will be provided later on,” Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian said in a Facebook post that announced the start of the prisoner swap.

“The process of finding and repatriating our other compatriots who went missing or were possibly taken prisoner is continuing intensively,” he said.

An Azerbaijani government agency announced the start of the exchange earlier in the day. It did not say how many Azerbaijanis have been returned home.

According to news reports, the Armenian side freed two Azerbaijani men who were detained in 2014 after crossing into the Kelbajar district which was handed back to Azerbaijan late last month. The men subsequently received long prison sentences after being convicted by a Karabakh court of murdering an Armenian teenager.

The November 10 truce agreement calls for the exchange of all prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians held by the conflicting sides.

Armenia’s and Karabakh’s closely integrated armed forces have not yet given the official number of Armenian POWs. According to officials in Yerevan and Stepanakert, Azerbaijan has admitted holding fewer Armenian soldiers than were captured by it during the six-week war.

Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman said earlier this month that his office has identified about 60 Armenian POWs shown in videos widely circulated on Azerbaijani social media accounts.

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