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International Negotiators To Visit Baku, Erevan, Stepanakert

By Roland Eggleston and Grisha Krichevsky

Vienna, May 24 (RFE/RL) -- A team of international negotiators will visit Armenia and Azerbaijan early next month to decide whether there is a basis for resuming the negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The co-chairmen of the eleven-nation negotiating group, Russia and Finland, suspended negotiations at the end of March, complaining that neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan was willing to accept necessary compromises. A spokesman for the co-chairmen today told RFE/RL there were some indications that all sides might now be ready to make more progress.

The team is scheduled to visit Baku June 5-6, Stepanakert June 7, and then go to Erevan June 8-9. The spokesman said an announcement is expected immediately after the visit on whether the talks will resume and when.

The delegation will be led jointly by Ambassador Valentin Lozinsky of Russia and Finland's Under-Secretary of State Heikki Talvitie. Other high-ranking officials include Russia's special envoy Vladimir Kazimirov, who recently concluded a round of shuttle diplomacy in the region; and Finnish negotiator, Rene Nyberg.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave inside Azerbaijan. It is populated mainly by ethnic Armenians. War erupted in 1988, after ethnic Armenian leaders declared sovereignty. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) negotiated a ceasefire in May 1994, but has been unable to convert this into a permanent cessation of hostilities, or a political settlement.

The spokesman for the co-chairmen said today the exchange of prisoners, which took place earlier this month to mark the second anniversary of the ceasefire, was one of the factors which encouraged Finland and Russia to believe the peace negotiations should resume. Another factor, he said, was the statement issued by the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Heydar Aliyev, after a meeting in Luxembourg last month (April 21). The statement said each side wants a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and declares its support for the international negotiations.

The spokesman acknowledged that arguments continue between Armenia and Azerbaijan about the prisoner release, but said the negotiations could probably resume despite these differences. Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of holding at least 16 prisoners in jails which are not open to the International Red Cross. In turn, Azerbaijan says it suspects Armenia may be holding as many as 800 Azerbaijanis, missing since hostilities ended.

The spokesman for the co-chairmen also confirmed that Russia tried to persuade the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to issue a joint declaration at the CIS summit this month, but failed to do so. The summit itself issued a brief statement in connection with the second anniversary of the ceasefire.

A high-ranking member (anonymous) of President Boris Yeltsin's staff tells our Moscow correspondent that Yeltsin and the Presidents of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia will meet early next month to discuss the Chechnya conflict, and also to discuss the Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts. The official tells our correspondent that the meeting will take place in early June (June 3 or 4). The meeting is expected to take place in the resort town of Kislovodsk in southern Russia.