An American official has called for the release of the Azerbaijani hostages in the Armenian captivity.
“Azerbaijani prisoners, held by Armenia, should be returned,” said Victoria Nuland, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at a press conference in Baku on February 17.
She said this should be carried out as a humanitarian gesture, noting that she will raise this issue in Yerevan.
Nuland will travel to Yerevan, Armenia, on February 18 where she will also discuss the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“I will make that point as well in Yerevan tomorrow,” Nuland added.
Armenian special forces killed Azerbaijani citizen Hasan Hasanov and took hostage Shahbaz Guliyev and Dilgam Asgarov in the Shaplar village of the occupied Kalbajar region on July 11, while they were visiting the graves of their relatives. Following the so-called “judicial process” Dilgam Asgarov was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Shahbaz Guliyev to 22 years in prison.
Nuland also voiced the U.S. concern over the escalation of violence on the line of contact between the Armenian and Azerbaijani troops recently.
The situation aggravated on the contact line of Armenia-Azerbaijani troops as a result of the constant ceasefire breaches by the Armenian armed forces that left losses on both sides.
“We want to see the violence end. We want the parties to come back to the table of negotiations. We want to support that process,” she added.
Armenia captured Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding regions from Azerbaijan in a war that followed the Soviet breakup in 1991. More than 20,000 Azerbaijanis were killed and nearly 1 million were displaced as a result of the war.
Large-scale hostilities ended with a Russia-brokered ceasefire in 1994 but Armenia continued the occupation in defiance of four UN Security Council resolutions calling for immediate and unconditional withdrawal.
Peace talks mediated by Russia, France and the U.S. have produced no results so far.
Southern Gas Corridor important for Europe
Nuland also touched upon the cooperation between the U.S. and Azerbaijan in traditional areas such as security, economy and energy.
She praised the meetings she earlier had in Baku, noting that the U.S. attached great importance to over 20 years of partnership with Azerbaijan. “We want to continue the strong work we have done together over these years.”
Nuland went on to add that the U.S. wants to see a strong and independent Azerbaijan.
“We talked about the work we are doing together in Afghanistan, in Kosovo, on countering terrorism, violent extremism,” she said.
Touching upon the cooperation in the sphere of energy, Nuland said the Southern Gas Corridor is important not just for Azerbaijan, but also for all the countries in Europe, which are too dependent on a single source of energy.
Nuland said the Southern Gas Corridor is a joint project of the U.S., Azerbaijan and Europe.
The Southern Gas Corridor is one of the priority energy projects for the EU. The project is aimed at diversification of routes and sources of energy supply and thereby increases EU’s energy security by delivery of gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz gas and condensate field to Europe.
Civil society development
The U.S. official also spoke about civil society development in Azerbaijan.
She said a deep conversation between the government and civil society is very important for the future of Azerbaijan.
“We agreed during talks in Baku that we will continue conversation and strengthen it by creating a U.S.-Azerbaijan dialogue on civil society and democracy,” she said.
Nuland went on to note that this is the U.S.-Azerbaijan bilateral structure which will be working in parallel with the works that Azerbaijan has done with the Council of Europe.
Earlier, the Working Group on Human Rights resumed its work in Azerbaijan.
The working group’s members, citing the memorandum on creation of the group, signed 2005, confirmed the Azerbaijani society’s intention to effectively address human rights issues through dialogue with civil society.
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