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Nagorno-Karabakh: UN General Assembly To Discuss Occupation Of Azerbaijani Land

Azerbaijan is hoping a proposed UN General Assembly resolution on its occupied territory will help resolve a key impediment to peace talks with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. The resolution, to be discussed today (eds: 1600 Prague time), calls for reaffirming Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and seeks an investigation into Azerbaijani claims Armenia is promoting a settlement policy in the occupied lands. Armenia denies this and has said such a resolution could undermine the peace process.

United Nations, 23 November 2004 (RFE/RL) - The UN General Assembly was expected to open discussion today on a resolution seeking to address Azerbaijan's concerns about its occupied territories and sluggish peace process with Armenia.

The resolution calls for a reaffirmation of Azerbaijan's sovereignty and territorial integrity 10 years after ethnic Armenian forces won control over Nagorno-Karabakh and occupied several districts adjacent to the enclave.

It expresses "alarm and grave concern" at the situation in the area occupied by Armenian forces, alleging the violation of international humanitarian laws. The measure also raises concern about reports of Armenian settlers being transferred to the territories.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov told reporters yesterday that the persistence of such reports, from international and Armenian sources, was a main factor driving the initiative in the assembly.
The resolution invites the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is directing peace talks, to send a fact-finding mission to lands occupied by ethnic Armenian forces to report on the situation.

"We get greatly concerned that the Armenian government is conducting a settlers' policy in the occupied territories, which we consider as a pure violation of international humanitarian law, including the Geneva conventions of 1949," Mammadyarov said.

The resolution invites the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is directing peace talks, to send a fact-finding mission to lands occupied by ethnic Armenian forces to report on the situation.

Diplomats at Armenia's UN mission did not respond to repeated requests for comment yesterday. When the issue was placed on the assembly's agenda in October, Armenian officials said there were no settlements in the territories outside the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and denied there was any policy to settle those lands.

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian recently warned that Azerbaijan's initiative in the assembly threatened to undermine mediation efforts under the OSCE's Minsk Group. A French diplomat speaking on behalf of the group told the General Assembly in October that the group did not believe UN was the proper forum to discuss the matter.

Mammadyarov said yesterday that his government remained committed to the Minsk process but was looking to spur progress on issues related to its large number of displaced persons. The resolution, though nonbinding, would seek to expand international pressure for a solution.

"We do not agree that [the resolution] can create bad consequences for the peace process," Mammadyarov said. "We consider that even it will support the peace process because otherwise you cannot conduct sincere peace negotiations, and simultaneously behind the scenes [the] Armenian side [is] conducting negotiations providing the so-called settlement process."

The initiative follows strong comments by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev at the General Assembly debate in September. Aliyev faulted the UN for neglecting the situation in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, citing UN Security Council resolutions in 1993 that called for the withdrawal of ethnic Armenian forces from Azerbaijani territory.

Mammadyarov said he also wants to see countries in the Minsk Group, especially the United States, become more active in pressing for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

"The conflict is very, very difficult. Of course, the settlement of the conflict is not very easy," Mammadyarov said. "What we're calling [for] is that it should be solved only by the efforts of [the whole] international community."

The war over Nagorno-Karabakh has driven an estimated 800,000 Azerbaijanis from their homes, about a tenth of the country's population. Azerbaijan's internally displaced people cannot return to Armenian-occupied territories, and many have been living in wretched conditions for the past 10 years.

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