Azerbaijan on Saturday released to Armenia 15 prisoners of war captured last year during hostilities over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baku said.
The ministry also said that under the deal mediated by Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, Yerevan reciprocated by providing Baku with maps of minefields in the conflict zone.
Fighting broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia in September last year over Nagorno-Karabakh, claiming about 6,000 lives over six weeks.
The war ended in November with a Russian-brokered ceasefire, under which Yerevan ceded swathes of territory that it had controlled for decades.
On Saturday, “Azerbaijan handed over to Armenia 15 detained Armenians in exchange for the map of 97,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines in the Agdam district,” one of the territories that Armenia ceded to Baku, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
The ministry also thanked US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Philip Reeker, European Council President Charles Michel and Sweden’s chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for their roles in the negotiations.
“Our brothers returned to their families thanks to the efforts of Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, our Georgian brothers, as well as our partners from the US and EU,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told journalists.
He said that he had earlier “provided Azerbaijan with a certain number of minefield maps through Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov.”
Garibashvili’s office said in a statement: “An important step has been made toward the amelioration of the security environment in the South Caucasus region.”
A senior EU diplomat said that Michel helped broker “parallel humanitarian gestures” prior to the agreement’s announcement.
Michel said that he considered it “a first step toward renewing confidence, an effort the EU is ready to fully support.”
Russia, which has deployed peacekeeping troops to Karabakh, also welcomed the move.
“Wonderful and long-awaited news. We welcome such steps,” Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram.
Nagorno-Karabakh is one of the most heavily mined places in the former Soviet Union.
Seven Azerbaijani troops and 18 civilians have died, and 110 have been wounded by mines in and near Nagorno-Karabakh since the ceasefire, the Azerbaijani government said.
Azerbaijani and Armenian forces planted mines during a conflict in the early 1990s.
Tensions have again been running high since May, when Armenia accused Azerbaijan’s military of crossing its southern border to “lay siege” to a shared lake.
Pashinyan at the time asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for military support.
Moscow said that it would help with the delimitation and demarcation of the neighbors’ borders.
Aliyev last month said that Azerbaijan was ready for peace talks with Armenia, while Pashinyan later announced that the two ex-Soviet nations were holding discussions on the delimitation and demarcation of their shared borders.
Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan as the Soviet Union collapsed, and the ensuing conflict has claimed about 30,000 lives.
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