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Armenia/Azerbaijan: Presidents Meet In Bucharest To Discuss Karabakh

By Hrair Tamrazian and Kenan Aliyev The meeting was the second time Kocharian (left) and Aliyev have met this year (file photo) BUCHAREST, June 5, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev have met for talks on the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Speaking to RFE/RL in an exclusive interview, Steven Mann, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE's Minsk Group, said that the presidents spoke for 2 1/2 hours on June 4. "There was a good atmosphere in the talks and again, a good atmosphere and a detailed discussion," he said.

The Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by the United States, Russia, and France, has been negotiating the conflict since 1992.

Russian Minsk Group co-chair Yury Merzlyakov said the fact that the presidents decided to meet was significant.

"Russia's position is that a settlement cannot be imposed on the two parties," Merzlyakov said. "They should reach it themselves, with the help of mediators. I think it is clear. The parties themselves bear the main responsibility for reaching a settlement."

The talks are the second time the presidents have met this year, after meeting in Rambouillet, near Paris, on February 10-11. Those talks failed to yield any agreement.

Peace Prospects

Predominantly ethnic-Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh seceded from Soviet Azerbaijan in 1988, triggering a six-year war that ended with a truce. Officially, the two countries are still at war.

Both presidents are under renewed pressure to reach a framework agreement on solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by the end of this year.

Diplomats and observers have said that, with the absence of national elections in both countries, this year presents a good opportunity to reach a framework agreement.

Today, the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents will both speak at the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization in the Romanian Parliament in Bucharest.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

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.

Click on the icon to view images of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (Flash required)

To view an archive of all of RFE/RL's coverage of Nagorno-Karabakh, click here.