Authorities in Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh have refused to consider the release of two Azerbaijani nationals who were convicted and jailed last year on charges of committing a number of crimes, including murder.
Azerbaijan does not recognize the legality of the trial in which its citizens, Dilham Askerov and Shahbaz Quliyev, were sentenced to life and 22 years in prison, respectively.
Askerov, 54, and Quliyev, 46, are charged with murder, espionage, illegal border crossing, and illegal weapons possession.
Authorities in the self-proclaimed government of Nagorno-Karabakh say they crossed into the breakaway region on July 12 and killed an officer of its military.
Azerbaijani officials say the self-proclaimed government, which is not recognized by any nation, has no legal right to try the men.
Their fate was in focus during a South Caucasus trip by the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Victoria Nuland.
On February 17, after talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku, Nuland said she would talk in Armenia about the release of Azerbaijani civilians held in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Baku and Yerevan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for years.
Armenian-backed separatists seized the mainly Armenian-populated region from Azerbaijan during a war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000 people and displaced many more.
Diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict have brought little progress.