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Armenia/Azerbaijan: Talks Fail To Produce Progress On Nagorno-Karabakh

Helsinki, 25 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Armenia and Azerbaijan have again failed to reach agreement on a set of principles for ending the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

The failure of the week-long talks in Helsinki means the negotiators will have nothing to take to the European summit in Lisbon next week. Finland and Russia, which co-chair the negotiations, had hoped to present the summit with a set of principles on which a political settlement could be based.

A spokesman for Finland's Foreign Ministry today told RFE/RL the summit is now expected to confine itself to a statement urging all sides to work constructively for a settlement.

A statement issued in Finland today about last week's talks said that, "despite intensive consultations, consensus was not achieved on the proposed principles of the settlement."

The statement said that, despite this latest failure, the 11-nation negotiating group would continue its efforts to achieve a political agreement, "which would eliminate major consequences of the conflict for all parties."

Nagorno-Karabkah is an enclave inside Azerbaijan largely populated by ethnic Armenians. Fighting erupted in 1988 after ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh declared sovereignty.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) negotiated a ceasefire in May 1994, but has been unable to convert this into a permanent settlement.

The international community believes a settlement would facilitate the exploitation of Azerbaijan's oil reserves.

Russia, the United States and France are among those with oil interests in Azerbaijan.

Diplomats who attended last week's negotiations tell RFE/RL today there had been "a slight movement" in Azerbaijan's position. However, they say, Baku continued to insist that the territory remain part of Azerbaijan. The Baku Government has said it is willing to grant Nagorno-Karabakh wide autonomy, but not independence.

The diplomats tell our correspondent that there was no movement in Armenia's position or in the position of the representatives of the ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Apart from the political status of Nagorno-Karabakh, last week's meeting also discussed Azerbaijan's demand for the withdrawal of ethnic Armenian forces from captured Azerbaijani territory. Armenia's demand for an end to the trade and energy embargo imposed by Azerbaijan was also discussed.

Azerbaijan renewed its protests against the widening of the road linking Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia across Azerbaijani territory. The twisting road through a mountain pass is being turned into a broad passage for the heavy trucks which carry freight into Nagorno-Karabakh.

Finland will surrender its co-chair of the negotiating group at next week's Lisbon summit. A spokesman today said Finland is disappointed that little progress had been made during its 20 months as co-chair and said Helsinki will continue to work for a settlement.

The new co-chair is expected to be announced at the OSCE Lisbon summit. The United States, Germany and France are among the candidates. An OSCE spokesman said today consultations were underway with all 54 active members of the organization, and it is possible another country will be chosen.