French President Jacques Chirac (right) meets Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, 10 February (epa)
PARIS, 10 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev, held talks separately in Paris today with French President Jacques Chirac in an effort to move toward a settlement of the 18-year-old conflict over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
RFE/RL reports that the motorcades of both presidents have arrived at the Rambouillet chateau, outside Paris, and the talks with OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs have started.
RFE/RL's correspondent reports that it is not clear whether the two presidents are meeting face-to-face, or separately with the OSCE envoys. Talks are set to continue today and tomorrow.
French, U.S., and Russian mediators from the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were also asked to take part in the negotiations.
European and U.S. diplomats have suggested that the talks represent one of the best chances in years to move toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly ethnic Armenian populated territory in Azerbaijan.
Clashes over the territory began in 1988, when Armenia and Azerbaijan were still part of the Soviet Union. The conflict claimed some 30,000 lives and created nearly 1 million refugees before a 1994 ceasefire ended the fighting.
Click on the image to view an enlarged map of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone
In February 1988, the local assembly in Stepanakert, the local capital of the Azerbaijani region of NAGORNO-KARABAKH, passed a resolution calling for unification of the predominantly ethnic-Armenian region with Armenia. There were reports of violence against local Azeris, followed by attacks against Armenians in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait. In 1991-92, Azerbaijani forces launched an offensive against separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, but the Armenians counterattacked and by 1993-94 had seized almost all of the region, as well as vast areas around it. About 600,000 Azeris were displaced and as many as 25,000 people were killed before a Russian-brokered cease-fire was imposed in May 1994.
CHRONOLOGY: For an annotated timeline of the fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988-94 and the long search for a permanent settlement to the conflict, click here.
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