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Azerbaijan Report: February 9, 2004

9 February 2004
"There are no unsolved problems between Baku and Moscow," said Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, commenting on the results of his visit to Moscow and meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Aliev assessed bilateral economic cooperation as "successful," adding that the two countries intend to redouble the bilateral trade turnover in the near future. According to Aliyev, both sides have reached complete agreement on the status of the Caspian Sea.

Touching on the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) main export pipeline by-passing Russia, Aliyev said that this pipeline will not damage Russia's economic interests. He did not rule out the possibility of transporting Russian oil through this pipeline in the future.

Speaking to students and faculty members of the Moscow State University of International Relations, Aliyev said he supports the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, adding that the solution must be based on international norms. "Russia will not interfere with the conflict and impose its opinion on the sides of the conflict. But we intend to intensify our efforts to help the parties reach an agreement," said President Putin upon conclusion of bilateral documents.

Putin and Aliyev signed the Moscow Declaration on the results of negotiations, describing basic principles of bilateral relations. Under the document the parties will intensify their cooperation in order to confront new global challenges and threats, especially international terrorism, illegal circulation of drugs and illegal trading of weapons. The declaration also reads that the parties will cooperate in border protection and take appropriate measures to suppress the activities of organizations and individuals directed against each other's state sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Neither of the parties will enter into any military, economic or financial activities directed against the other and will not allow their territories to be used for aggression and violent actions. Active work on completion of state border delimitation between Russia and Azerbaijan will continue. Moreover, the document envisages strengthening bilateral military and military-technical cooperation in line with the security interests of the two countries. Nevertheless, some local observers claim that the new bilateral agreements corresponds more to Russia's interests than to those of Azerbaijan.

(Samira Gazieva and Babek Bekir)

Four contracts on $2.6 billion dollar loans for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline were signed in Baku on 3 February. The loans will go towards financing the construction of a 1,760-kilometer pipeline. The financing package, which includes 208 finance documents, with over 17,000 signatures from 78 different parties, mainly determines security guarantees and discharge of credits.

$1.6 billion or approximately 70 percent of the total amount are to be provided by the International Finance Corporation, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and a syndicate of 15 influential commercial banks, and $1 billion or the remaining 30 percent by the BTC shareholders, including BP, Statoil, Total and ConocoPhilips.

According to David Woodward, BP Azerbaijan president, the first tranche of the loan will be issued in March. He also said that to date over $1.5 billion have been spent on construction and more than 50 percent of the work has been completed; some 780 km of the right way (ROW) has been prepared and 540 km welded. Woodward noted that the BTC pipeline is expected to take the first Caspian oil to the world market at the beginning of 2005.

At the signing ceremony Mehmet Hilmi Guler, Turkish minister for energy and natural resources, said that they decided to rename the Ceyhan terminal in honor of former Azeri President Heidar Aliyev, in recognition of his great service to the construction of the pipeline. He also said that the factors hampering the construction of the Turkish sector of the pipeline have been completely eliminated.

(Natig Zeinalov)

"It would be better for President Ilham Aliev to meet with the people mentioned in the Human Rights Watch report and listen to them," said Peter Burchard, head of OSCE Baku Office, at a 5 February press conference in response to President Aliyev's criticism of OSCE. Earlier in an interview with Russian newspaper "Izvestiya" Aliyev accused the OSCE of a biased attitude to the 15 October presidential elections and even of dissimulation.

Burchard noted that the OSCE has never changed its opinion regarding the elections, neither before nor after the voting. "I do not quite understand when the president urges that he was congratulated at first and criticized later. I do not know whom he was congratulated by, as the OSCE does not comment on election results, but assesses election processes," said Burchard. "Quite unfortunately, Ilham Aliyev did not wish to meet the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) director Christian Strouhal in Baku on 22 November. That would be a good opportunity to discuss the situation."

Meanwhile, OSCE experts watch closely the course of the trial of persons arrested on charges of involvement in the 15-16 October mass riots in Baku. According to Ulvi Akhundlu of the OSCE Baku Office, their activities will go beyond the legal proceedings on the 15-16 October events. The Baku Office together with the OSCE/ODIHR will conduct a monitoring survey during a year of the overall status of the country's judicial system. The information obtained will be included in the OSCE special report on the case.

(Babek Bekir, Rovshen Ganbarov, Shahnaz Beilerqizi)

While the Council of Europe has set a deadline for Baku to meet its commitments, the Azeri authorities say that they will fulfill these commitments only on the basis of reality. According to Samed Seidov, head of the Azerbaijani parliamentary delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Azerbaijan may not completely meet the undertaken obligations by the autumn, adding that Baku would immediately implement only those obligations that correspond to its national interests. At its winter session the PACE provided additional time for the Azerbaijani authorities to improve the situation with democratic institutions and political prisoners by September. The Assembly warned that it might repeal the mandate of the Azeri delegation if no progress is observed.

The Ago Monitoring Group from the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, which visited Baku last week, also urged local authorities to expedite the fulfillment of obligations and commitments, alleging that Azerbaijan was very slow in implementing its commitments before the Council of Europe and even lagged behind neighboring Armenia. The group also expressed its concern about the delay in bringing to trial some persons detained in the wake of the post-election 15-16 October mass disorders.

The post-election situation in the country was also discussed during the Ago group's meetings with leading opposition parties and human rights activists. According to human rights defender Chingiz Ganizade, the Ago group is familiar with reports on the events that took place after the presidential vote and the aim of their recent visit to Baku was to specify the information concerning the item. Human rights activists presented to the Ago Group video materials, documents and new information about the events.

(Babek Bekir and Zhale Mutallimova) (Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)