STEPANAKERT -- Military officials in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh have handed over the bodies of two Azerbaijani soldiers and received an ethnic Armenian corpse in an exchange agreed to by the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents last month, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Gavrush Arustamian, an 85-year-old villager from the northeastern part of Karabakh, went missing earlier this year in unclear circumstances. Local officials and residents say they think he drowned in a nearby river and his body was carried into Azerbaijani-controlled territory.
Arustamian's body was returned to Karabakh officials in exchange for the corpses of Azerbaijani soldiers Lieutenant Farid Ahmedov and Mubariz Ibrahimov on November 6.
The two soldiers were buried on November 7 in a funeral attended by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. He bestowed the title of "national hero" on Ibrahimov in July, shortly after he was killed in fighting with Karabakh-Armenian forces.
At the funeral, Aliyev paid tribute to the two "martyrs" and renewed his threats to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by force. "We can restore the country's territorial integrity by military means at any moment," he said. "The enemy must know and does know that."
The June firefight, which also left four Armenian soldiers dead, heightened tensions along the Armenian-Azerbaijani "line of contact" around the disputed territory, especially its northeastern section. Deadly skirmishes there have been more frequent in recent months.
Ahmedov, 24, and another Azerbaijani officer were shot dead in early September in what the Karabakh Armenian military described as a failed raid on its positions in the northern Martakert district.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry insisted, however, the two officers were killed while repelling an Armenian attack on their positions. It also said that Ibrahimov, 22, died in similar circumstances.
In a statement on November 6, a Karabakh government commission on prisoners of war and missing persons described the repatriation of Ahmedov's and Ibrahimov's bodies, mediated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICCR), as a goodwill gesture.
It made no mention of an October 27 joint statement issued by Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian after talks hosted by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The two leaders pledged to exchange "without delay" all prisoners of war and the bodies of soldiers and civilians killed in the conflict zone.
On November 4, Armenia freed an Azerbaijani civilian and received the body of one of its citizens who died in Azerbaijani captivity last month. That swap was also carried out with the Red Cross's help.
Azerbaijan is currently holding six Armenian POWs. The Armenian Defense Ministry said there are two Azerbaijani POWs in Nagorno-Karabakh. It is not yet clear whether they, too, will be exchanged soon.