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Armenian Court Sentences Former Karabakh Commander Babayan To Six Years In Prison

Samvel Babayan appears in court in Yerevan in July.
Samvel Babayan appears in court in Yerevan in July.

YEREVAN -- An Armenian court has convicted a former commander of separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh of weapons smuggling and money laundering and sentenced him to six years in prison.

The November 28 verdict against Samvel Babayan followed a trial that his allies in the opposition to President Serzh Sarkisian's government charge was politically motivated.

The court in Yerevan also sentenced two of Babayan's co-defendants to prison sentences -- one to two years and one to three years -- while the other four received suspended sentences.

Babayan was the top commander of ethnic Armenian forces in Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh region from 1993 to 1999.

Armenian-backed separatists seized control of the mainly Armenian-populated region and some surrounding territory during a war that killed some 30,000 people and drove about 1 million from their homes.

Intermittent fighting has continued since a 1994 cease-fire and diplomatic efforts to resolve the territorial dispute have brought little progress.

Babayan was arrested in March after Armenia's National Security Service claimed to have confiscated a man-portable Igla missile system and alleged that he was behind its acquisition.

The arrest came about two weeks before parliamentary elections in which Babayan voiced support for an opposition alliance led by former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and two former foreign ministers.

The alliance, known by the acronym ORO, contends that the criminal case is politically motivated.

Babayan and his six co-defendants went on trial in July. The once-powerful general has repeatedly denied prosecutors' claims that he promised to pay other suspects $50,000 for the delivery of the weapon.

Babayan, 52, was arrested previously in 2000 and sentenced to 14 years in prison after being convicted of masterminding a botched attempt on the life of the president in Nagorno-Karabakh's separatist government.

After his early release in 2004, Babayan relocated to Yerevan, where he set up a political party that fared poorly in the 2007 Armenian parliamentary elections, and then emigrated to Russia in 2011.

He returned to Armenia in May 2016, citing what he said was the increased risk of renewed war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh and the neighboring regions that the separatists control.