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More Armenian POWs Freed By Azerbaijan


ARMENIA -- People stand at a Russian military plane with some of Armenian captives upon its arrival at a military airport outside Yerevan, December 14, 2020

Azerbaijan released on Thursday five more Armenian prisoners of war (POWs) in line with the Russian-brokered agreement that stopped the war in Nagorno-Karabakh on November 10.

They were flown to Yerevan by a Russian plane and immediately taken to a military hospital for examination.

A senior Karabakh official, Boris Avagian, told reporters that the five men were among 62 Armenian soldiers who were taken prisoner in early December when the Azerbaijani army seized the last two Armenian-controlled villages in Karabakh’s Hadrut district occupied by it during the six-week war.

Azerbaijani officials have branded those soldiers as “saboteurs” and “terrorists,” signaling Baku’s intention to prosecute them on relevant charges. Yerevan has condemned those plans as a gross violation of international law and the Karabakh ceasefire agreement.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian, Azerbaijani authorities allowed all 62 prisoners to speak with their families by phone earlier on Thursday.

Avagian stressed the importance of the release of “the first group” of these POWs. “This means that the process is moving forward,” he said.

The truce agreement calls for the unconditional exchange of all prisoners held by the conflicting parties. Dozens of them were swapped in December.

The latest repatriation raised to 59 the total number of Armenian POWs and civilians freed to date. More than 100 others are believed to remain in Azerbaijani captivity.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian discussed their fate with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev during their January 11 talks in Moscow hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The three leaders announced no agreements on the issue.

Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian again demanded on Thursday the unconditional release of the remaining Armenian prisoners.

“Azerbaijan should understand that this is a humanitarian issue and if this issue continues to be exploited it will become problematic for Azerbaijan as well,” Ayvazian told reporters.

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