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Azerbaijan: President Calls On Moscow To Withdraw Troops From Armenia

By Ben Patridge and Liz Fuller

London, 23 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Azerbaijan's President Heydar Aliyev yesterday called on Russia to withdraw its troops from Armenia and to stop what he called the "secret and illegal" supply of weapons to his Caucasus neighbor.

Aliyev said: "Russia has a huge territory and should keep its own forces on its own territory, and not in our neighborhood."

Aliyev, who is on a four-day official visit to Britain, spoke to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

He said there are about 40,000 Russian troops in Armenia which, in effect, gave Moscow military bases in the region.

Aliyev's figure appears to be an exaggeration, however. According to the CFE, as of January last year (1997) there were exactly 4,068 Russian troops in Armenia. Their presence is regulated by a series of bilateral agreements signed during the last two years.

Azerbaijan and Armenia are still at odds over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in Azerbaijan. They fought a bitter war over the region after the collapse of the Soviet Union and, despite a May, 1994 ceasefire, there have been ongoing cross-border incidents

Aliyev said Russia has taken Armenia's side in the conflict by supplying weapons, including what he said was a recent promise by the Russian Defense Minister to send S-300 missiles.

But asked during his visit to Yerevan last week whether Moscow intended to deploy S-300s in Armenia, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev refused to give a definite answer.

Aliyev, a former Soviet Politburo member, cited what he said was a statement last year by the Russian Defense Ministry that it had supplied Armenia with "$1 billion" worth of weapons.

He himself protested to President Boris Yeltsin that, since Azerbaijan and Armenia are at odds over Nagorno-Karabakh Russia shouldn't arm one side, especially given the ceasefire.

He said Moscow promised an investigation, and agreed to a joint investigating commission, but has delayed the issue.

Aliyev said Russia's move to strengthen its bases in Armenia does not help the stability of the traditionally volatile region.

He described as "illogical" statements by Russia that it wants to preserve its own security by stationing military forces in Armenia.

Aliyev, whose country is of increasing interest to the west because of its rich oil reserves, said he wants friendly relations with both Russia and Armenia and its other regional neighbors.

He said his country hopes to see democratic reforms succeed in Russia because a democratic Russia will be Azerbaijan's partner.

Azerbaijan, a small Muslim country of 7.5 million people, was part of the Tsarist, then Soviet empires.

Aliyev said if "imperial" ambitions re-emerge in Russia, or if Moscow seeks to dominate the CIS, it will damage the independence of all the region's newly-independent countries.

He also said despite negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group, Azerbaijan and Armenia have not achieved a lasting peace and the "results of their war have not been eliminated."

Aliyev said that 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory -- (a reference to Nagorno Karabakh) -- is still occupied by Armenia, and more than one million Azerbaijani citizens are refugees in their own country, many of them living in dire straits in outdoor tents. This figure also appears to be an exaggeration. The total area of Azerbaijani territory occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces does not exceed 12 percent of Azerbaijan's total land area. As for the number of displaced persons, the UNHCR calculates it as 780,000.

Aliyev said Azerbaijan wants long-term peace with Armenia but it will not give up any land, stands by its right of its own territorial integrity, and will not accept independence for Nagorno-Karabakh. Aliyev said the Armenians need to recognize this "reality."

He also said that the peaceful negotiating process with Yerevan has slowed down since the resignation of Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan in February this year.

But the new Armenian government headed by President Robert Kocharian has repeatedly called for a resumption of peace talks with no preconditions. Aliyev has failed to mention that.