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Karabakh Airport Construction 'Nearing Completion'

The new airport terminal near Stepanakert

The new airport terminal near Stepanakert

STEPANAKERT -- A senior Armenian official says the delayed reconstruction of the sole airport in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh is proceeding rapidly and will be completed by the end of September, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

It remains unclear, however, when the first commercial flights to the Karabakh airport in two decades will begin.

Karabakh officials said early this year that a regular flight service between Stepanakert and Yerevan will be launched in May. However, those plans were put on hold last spring amid an outcry from Azerbaijan.

Baku condemned the planned flights as illegal and threatened to shoot down aircraft entering Karabakh without Azerbaijan's permission. But it softened its rhetoric in April following international criticism and warnings issued by the Armenian and Karabakh governments.

Karabakh leaders have insisted since then that the airport's reopening was delayed for technical, rather than political reasons.

In a recent interview with RFE/RL, Karabakh leader Bako Sahakian said the airport reconstruction -- initially estimated at $3 million -- simply proved more costly and time-consuming than was previously thought.

Sahakian declined to give any dates for Karabakh's renewed air connection with Armenia.

Dmitry Atbashian, the head of Karabakh's civil aviation authority, also could not say today when the first passenger jet will land at the airport, which is located 8 kilometers east of Stepanakert.

He said construction workers are currently putting the finishing touches on its runway and installing air-traffic navigation and meteorological equipment.

"The work is progressing at a very good pace," Atbashian told RFE/RL. "The quality is very is good and I am content with everything."

Flights to and from the airport were discontinued in 1991 amid intensifying armed clashes in Karabakh that degenerated into a full-scale Armenian-Azerbaijani war that lasted until 1994 and led to Armenians taking control of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjoining Azerbaijani territory.

Transport between the disputed territory and the outside world has since been carried out by land, via Armenia.

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