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Azerbaijan swaps 15 Armenian prisoners for map of landmines

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Azerbaijani service members walk during mine lifting in Agdam in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, November 24, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

Azerbaijan says it has handed over 15 Armenian prisoners, detained during last year’s conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, in exchange for a map detailing the location of landmines in Agdam.

The Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that Baku had “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.”

Agdam is part of the territories that Armenia ceded to Azerbaijan under a Russian-brokered ceasefire that ended the six-week war over Nagorno-Karabakh in November.

The conflict killed more than 6,000 people on both sides and led to a political crisis in Armenia.  It also left minefields behind that have continued to inflict casualties, including three recent deaths in the region.

The prisoner exchange deal, which is the first agreement of its kind between the two Caucasus countries, was welcomed by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

He said he had earlier “provided Azerbaijan with a certain number of minefield maps through Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.”

“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,” Pashinyan said.

Garibashvili said in a statement, “An important step has been made towards the amelioration of the security environment in the South Caucasus region.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the prisoner swap, saying he hoped it would lay the groundwork for more cooperation between the two countries.

“We continue to call for the return of all detainees and stand ready to assist the countries of the region in their efforts to continue cooperation and resolve outstanding issues between them,” Blinken said.

Russia also welcomed the “wonderful and long-awaited news,” according to foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

Under the Moscow-brokered truce, nearly 2,000 Russian peacekeepers have been stationed along the Lachin corridor in Azerbaijan, a 60-kilometer-long route that links Khankendi to Armenia.

Border tensions mounted again last month after Yerevan accused Baku of sending troops across the border and violating the ceasefire.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has been populated by ethnic Armenians.

Azerbaijani forces gained the upper hand and retrieved large swathes of land in the latest conflict.

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