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European Union tells Azerbaijan to speed up release of Armenian prisoners

Published: Updated:

The European Union on Thursday called on Azerbaijan to free “without further delay” all remaining Armenian prisoners held since a war last year over disputed Nagorno-Karabakh.

“The release of all Armenian detainees is essential for building confidence and trust and would be an important political gesture,” European Commission member Helena Dalli told European lawmakers on behalf of foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

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“We welcomed the release of five Armenian detainees on the 29th of January and of three on the 4th of May. We insist that all remaining detainees be released without further delay.”

Armenia suffered a harrowing defeat in the six-week war last year in which 6,000 people died, as Azerbaijan won back swathes of territory it lost in fighting some three decades earlier.

Under a Russia-brokered peace deal on November 9 to halt the bloodshed, the two sides agreed to return all prisoners of war and the remains of those killed in the fighting.

Armenia says it has returned all the captives it took but accuses Azerbaijan of keeping an unknown number of detainees as a bargaining chip.

Azerbaijan insists it has returned all prisoners of war -- but does admit it is holding some who were captured in clashes after the peace deal was signed.

Baku says they were not covered by the Russian-brokered agreement and are “terrorist-saboteurs” who should go on trial.

EU lawmakers echoed Brussels by approving a resolution in the European Parliament on Thursday calling for “the immediate and unconditional release of all Armenian prisoners, both military and civilian, detained during and after the conflict.”

Read more: Russia offers to help demarcate disputed Armenia-Azerbaijan border