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Armenia: Former President Says Yerevan Must Offer More To Baku

By Armen Dulian and Emil Danielyan

Yerevan, 8 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian said (March 5) that the current Yerevan government must offer more concessions to Azerbaijan to end the long-standing territorial dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Ter-Petrossian -- who governed Armenia from 1990 to 1998 -- lamented the lack of progress in settling the dispute when he spoke to reporters (March 5) at a congress of his Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh).

Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a bitter war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly ethnic Armenian area within Azerbaijan that broke away from Azerbaijani rule in 1991. A fragile cease-fire has been in place since 1994.

Ter-Petrossian stepped down in February 1998 after failing to win government support for a plan on Nagorno-Karabakh put forward at the time by diplomats working through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Key ministers -- led by then-prime minister and current President Robert Kocharian -- rejected the plan. The OSCE proposal reportedly upheld Azerbaijani sovereignty over the disputed enclave.

Ter-Petrossian said he still hasn't changed his position. He said: "I knew the way for a solution." He said if Armenia postpones a settlement any longer, "we won't get even half of what we were offered in 1997."

The OSCE's so-called Minsk Group unveiled a new peace plan last November that gives the enclave enhanced status within Azerbaijan. The plan has met with approval from Armenia and the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh republic. They have called the plan a major improvement over previous efforts.

Baku, however, has firmly rejected the proposal, saying it does not guarantee its sovereignty over the enclave.

Ter-Petrossian today played down any changes that have been made in the OSCE plan, saying only that the absence of progress in the Karabakh peace process is what matters most. He said "nothing has changed in Karabakh."

The former president -- known for his aloofness and avoidance of the press -- has lived in virtual seclusion since leaving office. He initially refused to answer any questions today but relented after being besieged by reporters.

Ter-Petrossian appeared at the HHSh congress as the former ruling party struggles to stay in the political arena following murder charges against its chairman.

Vano Siradeghian -- who was interior minister in Ter-Petrossian's government -- has been accused of ordering the murders of two police officers in 1994 for their alleged failure to assassinate a Russian businessman of Armenian origin. Siradeghian denies the charges.

Ter-Petrossian repeated his condemnation of the authorities, describing the charges against Siradeghian as a "disgrace."

Ter-Petrossian said he continues to be a member of the HHSh but will not seek any posts in the center-right party. Nor, he said, will he stand as a candidate in the May parliamentary elections.

He said that -- despite many "mistakes" being made during its eight-year rule -- the HHSh must try to restore its formerly strong position in Armenia.

However, Ter-Petrossian refused to admit the possibility that the 1994 ban on the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (HHD) was a mistake. Many analysts believe the ban cast a shadow on his government's once-democratic image.

Ter-Petrossian said the HHD was "engaged in terror." He said his ban prevented further terror. He said Armenians should be grateful because there were no acts of terrorism from 1994 to 1998. He said the ban has proven to be "absolutely justified." Dozens of HHD activists were charged with terrorism and coup-plotting. Most of them were released from jail shortly after Kocharian came to power in February 1998. The HHD has been one of Kocharian's leading allies ever since.