YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—The European Union has called on Azerbaijan to free all Armenian soldiers and civilians held by it more than five months after a Russian-brokered ceasefire stopped the war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In a statement released late on Wednesday, the EU welcomed the “consolidation of the ceasefire on the ground,” repatriation of the remains of people killed during the fighting and humanitarian aid provided to civilians in the conflict zone.
“The European Union reiterates, however, that renewed efforts are necessary to build confidence between both countries and make progress towards sustainable peace,” read the statement submitted to the Council of Europe.
“This includes refraining from hostile and offensive rhetoric, finalizing, as soon as possible, the return of all remaining prisoners of war and detained persons, regardless of the circumstances of their arrest, and cooperating also on other important issues such as de-mining,” it said.
The truce agreement calls for the unconditional release of all prisoners held by the conflicting sides. The Russian peacekeepers stationed in Karabakh arranged several prisoner swaps in December and early this year. No Azerbaijani prisoners are known to be held in Armenia or Karabakh at present.
A total of 69 Armenian prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians have been freed to date. More than 100 others are believed to remain in Azerbaijani captivity.
Azerbaijan says that they are not covered by the truce accord because they were captured after it took effect on November 10. Azerbaijani officials have branded them as “terrorists” and said Baku does not intend to release them.
In recent months, Baku has also reportedly refused to provide the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) with information about the whereabouts of the remaining Armenian prisoners.
The EU statement stressed that the Azerbaijani authorities are obliged to comply with relevant “interim measures” issued by the ECHR in response to lawsuits filed from Armenia. “We call on Azerbaijan to provide the outstanding information requested by the Court,” it said.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan hailed the “very important” EU statement during a weekly session of his cabinet on Thursday. He said the growing international pressure on Baku “increases our optimism about achieving concrete results on this issue.”
“We need to be as united, patient and consistent as possible,” added Pashinyan.
The U.S., Russian and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group also called for the release of the Armenian POWs civilians earlier this month.