Azerbaijan releases 15 captured Armenian soldiers

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Azerbaijan on Saturday handed over to Yerevan 15 Armenian troops captured last year in the wake of an armed conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, officials said.

Foreign ministry in Baku said the move was part of a Russian-mediated deal and followed Yerevan’s decision to release to Baku maps of minefields in the conflict zone.

Fighting broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia in September 2020 over Nagorno-Karabakh, claiming more than 6,500 lives over six weeks.

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The war ended in November with a Russian-brokered ceasefire under which Yerevan ceded swathes of territories – in and near Karabakh – it had controlled for decades.

“On the initiative of the Russian Federation, Armenia submitted to the Azerbaijani side maps of about 92,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines planted during the occupation in the Fizuli and Zangilan regions” which were returned to Azerbaijan last year, the ministry said in a statement.

“The Azerbaijani side handed over to Armenia 15 people of Armenian origin.”

A senior Azerbaijani diplomat told AFP the 15 men were captured by Azerbaijani troops in December last year.

A similar deal was negotiated between Baku and Yerevan last month by Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvil, the United States’ and European Union diplomats.

Seven Azerbaijani troops and 18 civilians have died and 110 have been wounded by mines in and near Nagorno-Karabakh since the ceasefire, the Azerbaijani government says.

Both Azerbaijani and Armenian forces planted mines during a bloody conflict in the early 1990s.

Aliyev said in May that Azerbaijan was ready for peace talks with Armenia, while Pashinyan later announced the two ex-Soviet nations were holding discussions on the delimitation and demarcation of their shared borders.

Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan as the Soviet Union collapsed, and the ensuing conflict has claimed around 30,000 lives.

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