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Caucasus: Azerbaijan And Armenia Detail Karabakh Peace Plan

By Emil Danielyan/Jean-Christophe Peuch

The details of an international peace plan for Nagorno-Karabakh have been made public in both Azerbaijan and Armenia. Until now the plan has been treated as a classified document, and it is not clear why it has abruptly emerged. But RFE/RL correspondents Emil Danielyan and Jean-Christophe Peuch report that the plan comes to light at a time when momentum for solving the 13-year-old conflict appears to be gaining speed.

Prague, 22 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Media outlets in Baku yesterday released for the first time details of a proposed international plan to settle the 13-year-old territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

The plan is the latest of three peace proposals drafted since 1997 by the so-called "Minsk Group" of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE. It provides for the creation of a "common state" between Azerbaijan and Karabakh. The idea of a common state had previously been rejected by Azerbaijan as unacceptable.

Armenian and Karabakh officials familiar with the peace process confirmed the authenticity of the document, which was published along with the two earlier peace proposals. Those plans were rejected by Armenia.

The common-state plan was also published yesterday by Armenia's "Aravot" newspaper.

Under the common-state plan, the enclave would be placed under a loose confederation with Azerbaijan, but would have de facto independence. In addition, Karabakh would enjoy the internationally recognized status of a republic, with its own constitution, armed forces, and power to veto any legislation passed in Baku.

It's not clear why the plan, which until now has been treated as a highly secret document, was made public. But its publication comes at a time when efforts to resolve the conflict appear to be gaining momentum.

Analysts say President Heidar Aliyev may have ordered that the plan be made public in order to test his population's reaction to it.

Rustam Mamedov, an official with the presidential administration's social and political affairs department, tells RFE/RL that Azerbaijanis should be made aware of contents of the OSCE peace proposals for the enclave:

"The OSCE has so far drafted three proposals: the so-called package plan, the so-called step-by-step plan, and the so-called common-state version. The Azerbaijani population must broadly debate this. The concrete results of talks between [Azerbaijani] President Aliyev and [Armenian President Robert] Kocharian will be presented to the public, and the organic links that exist between this debate and [the] results [of the Aliev-Kocharian talks] will become clear. Everything must proceed through the heart and will of our people."

The Azerbaijani parliament is scheduled to hold a debate on the peace proposals tomorrow (23 February). But after a meeting today in Baku to discuss the three existing peace proposals, representatives of more than 40 political parties and social organizations concluded that all three plans are unacceptable for Azerbaijan.

The Karabakh dispute broke out in 1988 when the mainly ethnic Armenian enclave decided to secede from Azerbaijan. The conflict that followed has killed thousands on each side and has turned 800,000 Azerbaijanis into refugees. Despite a 1994 cease-fire, the two countries are still officially at war.

Aliyev and Armenian President Kocharian were said to be very close to an agreement in 1999. But the murder of Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian and several other officials in October of that year brought the process to a dead end. Some analysts have even speculated that the killings may have been masterminded by people opposed to a peace agreement with Azerbaijan.

Speaking to reporters at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg recently (25 January), both Aliyev and Kocharian hinted at recent progress that could lead them closer to what they called "mutually acceptable compromises." These unspecified compromises, the two presidents said, could in turn serve as a basis for a future settlement of the dispute.

Asked at the time whether his country would agree to the creation of a common state between Azerbaijan and Karabakh, Aliyev declined to comment.

A Western diplomat close to the peace talks told RFE/RL that none of the existing three proposals drafted by the Minsk Group is likely to be endorsed by the negotiating parties.

The diplomat, who asked not to be named, said: "If there is an agreement, it is unlikely it will be one of the three proposals as they are. It will be something different that will perhaps include new elements."

Aliev's former diplomatic adviser, Vafa Guluzade, told the Azerbaijani news agency Turan yesterday that a fourth plan -- details of which are still unknown -- might appear in the near future.

The agency also quoted unidentified diplomats as saying that Aliyev and Kocharian agreed on some basic principles that could serve as a basis for a new peace proposal when they met in Paris last month (26 January) with French President Jacques Chirac. France co-chairs the Minsk Group along with the United States and Russia.

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said last week that Chirac had suggested general principles for solving the conflict and that agreement on them will place a solution within reach.

Kocharian and Aliyev are due to travel to Paris next month for their 15th face-to-face meeting in two years.

Officials close to the negotiations told RFE/RL that the last round of talks in Paris have renewed hopes for a decisive breakthrough in the peace process. These officials also note that both Aliyev and Kocharian are committed to reaching a peace agreement before their presidential mandates expire in 2003.

Chirac discussed the Karabakh issue by telephone with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on 19 February. Putin and Aliyev also reviewed the latest developments in the peace process during a telephone conversation on Tuesday.

"The New York Times" reported earlier this week that Chirac was what it described as "guardedly optimistic about a possible settlement" in a lengthy phone conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush early this month (1 February). The paper said relief agencies are already putting together an aid package that would be part of a future peace treaty.

Armenian officials have repeatedly said they will not agree to any major concessions, apart from those envisaged by the common-state plan. Kocharian told reporters last month in Strasbourg that the common-state plan should serve as a basis for future negotiations.

"How could we find a balance between territorial integrity and self-determination of people, between these two principles that are equally important in terms of international law? We think that the right to self-determination has been legally confirmed in Nagorno-Karabakh. But, nonetheless, we're looking for the possibility of finding a compromise between those two principles. And we believe that the idea of a common state is precisely a way to find a just compromise."

Article 1 of the published peace proposals stipulates that Karabakh and Azerbaijan shall form a common state to be governed by a joint commission comprised of representatives of the two entities. Neither of them can unilaterally change the provisions regarding the common state. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic would itself form its own executive, legislative, and judicial branches as well as a national guard and police.

The document states that "the Azerbaijani army, security and police forces will not be allowed to enter the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh without the consent of the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities."

Furthermore, under the plan, "Azerbaijani laws, regulations and executive directives shall have a legal force in Nagorno-Karabakh so long as they do not contradict the latter's constitution and laws."

Karabakh residents could travel abroad with specially marked Azerbaijani passports. Only the government in Stepanakert would be empowered to grant such passports and residency permits. Armenian would be the new Karabakh republic's main official language.

The package of proposals includes a separate agreement on military disengagement. Armenian and Azerbaijani forces would retreat from their current positions north and east of Karabakh to create a buffer zone controlled by a multi-national peacekeeping force under the OSCE. Karabakh Armenian forces would then gradually withdraw from six districts in Azerbaijan which they seized during the 1991-1994 war.

Overall responsibility for peace implementation would rest with a permanent mixed commission headed by a representative of the Minsk Group. France, Russia, and the U.S. would act as guarantors of the proposed settlement, while the OSCE or the UN Security Council would be given a mandate to take military action to ensure the parties' compliance with their obligations.

(RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service contributed to this report)