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Armenia/Azerbaijan: New Karabakh Leader Urges Military Build-up

Stepanakert, Azerbaijan; 2 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - The newly-elected leader of the self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno-Karabakh vowed today to boost its military might to ward off possible attack by Azerbaijan.

Arkady Gukasian, who won nearly 90 percent of the vote in yesterday's presidential election, said he doubts that Azerbaijan will try to use force against Nagorno-Karabakh if the predominantly ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan builds up its military might. He said negotiations with the Azeri government had reached a deadlock. Gukasian, who up until now had served as Nagorno-Karabakh's foreign minister, also ruled out any return of the enclave to Azerbaijan.

Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan congratulated Gukasian for his victory.

Azerbaijan, which does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh's self-proclaimed independence, has criticized the poll, as has Russia. But Gukasian told reporters the election was very important for the territory's future. The voting was monitored by more than 40 international observers, including a group of deputies to the Russian State Duma.

Earlier yesterday, an Armenian soldier was killed by an unknown sniper near Agdam, a town that runs along the border between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops.

Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh broke out in 1988. The territory declared independence in 1991. A ceasefire was worked out in 1994, but there has so far been no permanent resolution to the conflict. Azerbaijan seeks to restore control over Nagorno-Karabakh and accuses Armenia of backing the separatists.