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Azerbaijan hands over 15 ethnic Armenian prisoners in exchange for minefield maps

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)
This picture taken from the Armenian village of Sotk on June 18, 2021, shows Azerbaijan's flag (L) and Armenia's flag flying at a border checkpoint between the two neighbors. (Photo by AFP)

Azerbaijan has released more than a dozen Armenian prisoners in exchange for maps of tens of thousands of mines planted in conflict zones separating the two neighbors. 

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday that more than 15 ethnic Armenians had been handed over to Yerevan in return for the maps revealing the locations of some 92,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines in the Fizuli and Zangilan regions.

In a statement released on Saturday, Azerbaijan said Moscow had helped in negotiations that resulted in Baku obtaining detailed minefield maps from Armenia.

It also said that in exchange, Baku had released and handed over 15 inmates who had served their prison sentences in Azerbaijan. It gave no details of who the prisoners were.

The decades-long tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region flared up last September, resulting in military and civilian casualties from both sides.

A Russian-brokered ceasefire ended the conflict with Azerbaijan gaining huge swathes of land that Armenia had controlled.

Since the truce, the two ex-Soviet republics have accused each other of breaching the peace deal that ended six weeks of fierce fighting.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry announced on Saturday that a five-day joint military drill by Turkish and Azerbaijani armies in Baku had "successfully" ended.

The main objective of the joint military drills, code-named Mustafa Kemal Ataturk 2021, was to "improve interoperability between the armies of the two countries during combat operations."

The development of "the military decision-making skills of the commanders" and "joint live-fire tactical exercises" were other objectives cited for the drills. "The units of the armies of Azerbaijan and Turkey participating in the exercises have successfully completed all the assigned tasks," said a statement by the ministry.

Turkey has traditionally been an ally of Azerbaijan, taking Baku’s side in its latest conflict with Yerevan.

An earlier statement by Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said 600 military personnel would take part in the joint drills.

Some 40 tanks and other armored vehicles, up to 20 artillery pieces and mortars of various caliber, seven combat and transport helicopters, three unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as up to 50 auto vehicles were involved in the drills, it added.

The military personnel taking part in the exercises were also given various awards and gifts.

Turkey has been hostile towards Armenians who criticize Ankara for refusing to accept the alleged massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during the First World War as “genocide.”

Armenians have long called for the recognition of the Meds Yeghern, literally meaning “great crime,” as the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.

Turkey, in response, regularly lodges a formal complaint when any official describes the tragic wartime events in Ottoman Turkey as “genocide.”

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