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OSCE Summit: Azerbaijan Blocking Text On Nagorno-Karabakh

Lisbon, 2 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Diplomats at the European security conference say Azerbaijan is still blocking agreement on a text about its dispute with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave inside Azerbaijan largely populated by ethnic Armenians. Most of the Azeri population fled during the war which erupted when the ethnic Armenians declared independence in 1988.

Azerbaijan says the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit in Lisbon should approve a text recognizing its territorial integrity. Diplomats say this would imply international recognition of its control over Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan says it is prepared to grant what it calls "the highest level of self-rule" to Nagorno-Karabakh.

An 11-nation negotiating group led by Russia and Finland met with Armenian and Azeri representatives until the early hours of this morning without success. A spokesman said talks will continue in a back room today while government leaders address the summit. The negotiating group says it is ready to keep meeting until the summit ends tomorrow in the hope of reaching agreement..

Azerbaijan argues that it is entitled to have a text similar to those already agreed for the situation in Georgia and Moldova, which also have problems with separatists.

In the summit text on Georgia, the heads of state and government express support for the "sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders." The integrity of Georgia is threatened by separatists in the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.

The summit text of Moldova also calls for a political settlement with the separatist Transdnestr region "based on the sovereignty and territorial integrity" of the Republic of Moldova.

Diplomats said this morning it is still uncertain which country will replace Finland as co-chairman of the negotiating group. Azerbaijan has raised objections to France which was supported by most governments last night. Diplomats said the choice might now fall on the United States. The country chosen must have the support of all 54 active members of the OSCE.