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Aliyev Faces Growing Criticism For Pardon

Azerbaijani military officer Ramil Safarov was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder in Hungary in 2006.
Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev faces growing international criticism for pardoning an Azerbaijani Army officer who was sentenced to life in prison for the 2004 ax murder of an Armenian military officer.

Ramil Safarov was sentenced in 2006 by a Budapest court after confessing to the murder of Armenian Army Lieutenant Gurgen Margarian while the two were attending a language course organized by NATO's Partnership for Peace program.

Margarian was killed in his dormitory room in Budapest while he was sleeping. A postmortem examination later concluded that Safarov smashed Margarian's face with an ax 16 times, nearly severing his head from his body.

Hungarian police said Margarian was also stabbed several times in the chest.

Hungary says it returned Safarov to Azerbaijan on August 31 after receiving assurances from Baku his prison sentence would be enforced.

But Aliyev issued a presidential pardon for Safarov upon his arrival in Baku.

Armenia has formally protested and suspended diplomatic ties with Hungary.

In Paris, the co-chairs of the Minsk Group with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announced on September 3 that they had met separately with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss Safarov's pardon.

Damaged Trust

In a statement, the diplomats said they had told Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov that the pardon and attempts in Azerbaijan to glorify Safarov's crime have damaged efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict between Baku and Yerevan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

As a result, they said, trust between the two sides also has been damaged.

Among those attending the talks with Mammadyarov were Russia's Ambassador Igor Popov, U.S. Ambassador Robert Bradtke, and French Ambassador Jacques Faure -- as well as the personal representative of the OSCE chairperson-in-office on the conflict dealt with by the OSCE Minsk Conference, Andrzej Kasprzyk of Poland.

Separately on September 3, Russia's Foreign Ministry that Safarov's release and pardon contravenes international efforts aimed at easing tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In Brussels, Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, also expressed concern about the presidential pardon.

Kocijancic stopped short of criticizing Hungary's decision to return Safarov to Azerbaijan, but she indicated that EU leaders in Brussels were "in touch with the Hungarian authorities."

"We are closely following the situation and are in contact with the relevant sides to obtain more information," she said. "And we are particularly concerned with the possible impact that these developments might have on the wider region and, therefore, we call on Azerbaijan and Armenia to exercise restraint on the ground and in public statements in order to prevent any kind of escalation of this situation."

Sovereign Bonds

Kocijancic also avoided commenting on Armenia's decision to suspend diplomatic relations with Hungary in response to what Yerevan suspects was a secret deal between Hungary and Azerbaijan.

Safarov was sent back to Baku just a week after a Hungarian business newspaper reported that Azerbaijan could lend Hungary up to 3 billion euros ($3.8 billion) by buying a specially issued sovereign bond denominated in Turkish lira.

Reuters also reported earlier in August from Istanbul that Hungary was in talks with Turkey and Azerbaijan about issuing sovereign bonds in local currencies.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's spokesman Peter Szijjarto denied any connection between Safarov’s release and the possible sale of Hungarian bonds.

Meanwhile, Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth summoned Azerbaijan's ambassador, Vilayet Guliyev, to tell him Hungary considered the pardon "unacceptable."

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has urged the international community to respond with "clear and unequivocal actions," saying "half-measures and empty talk are not acceptable."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Armenian Service
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