YEREVAN -- Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of violating a key term of the Russian-brokered cease-fire deal that ended last fall’s fighting over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, alleging that Baku is reneging on a pledge to free Armenian soldiers and civilians captured during the conflict.
“Unfortunately, the return of prisoners is again delayed,” the office of Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian said in a statement posted on Facebook on April 9.
Avinian said that “Russian-mediated negotiations are continuing and we hope that the Azerbaijani side will at last respect” the cease-fire agreement signed in November 2020, putting an end to six weeks of fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.
There was no immediate reaction from Azerbaijani officials.
Avinian’s accusations come a day after Armenian government representatives said that a group of prisoners of war (POWs) was about to be repatriated to Armenia.
But a plane from Azerbaijan that was expected to bring 25 POWs turned out to be empty when it landed in Yerevan.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians since the early 1990s.
Under the Moscow-brokered cease-fire deal, a chunk of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven districts around it were placed under Azerbaijani administration after almost 30 years of control by ethnic Armenian forces.
The agreement also resulted in the deployment of around 2,000 Russian peacekeepers, and provided for an exchange of POWs and other detained people.
Several prisoner exchanges have taken place in recent months.
There are no official figures of how many Armenians are still being held by Azerbaijan, but the RBK news agency said there were about 140. It’s unclear how many Azerbaijani prisoners there are.
On April 9, hundreds of relatives of POWs and missing soldiers protested in Yerevan and other parts of Armenia.
In the capital, about 400 blocked the entrances of the Defense Ministry for a second day. Some protesters clashed with police.
More than 6,000 people died in last year’s fighting.