MOSCOW (Xinhua)– Azeri President Haydar Aliyev pledged in a New Year message Friday that his country will respect the cease-fire agreement signed with Armenia concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.
Aliyev said that efforts were continuing to strive for a peaceful settlement of the confrontation over the disputed territory which hindered the normalization of Azeri-Armenian relations–adding that Baku was ready to offer the region a high degree of autonomy.
The refugee problem still remains a major task on the agenda of the Azeri government–Aliyev said–expressing the hope that this would be solved gradually with the progress to be made on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue in 1999.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have long been at odds over the sovereignty of Nagorno-Karabakh–a former autonomous region within Azerbaijan whose population is mostly Armenian–leading to armed clashes between 1988 and 1994 which caused around 7,000 deaths and made hundreds of thousands of people refugees.
The two countries reached a cease-fire agreement in 1994 with the mediation of the international community.
However–the peace talks have failed to achieve substantial progress so far due to the two sides’ differences over the issue.
On domestic issues–Aliyev said that the country’s democratic reform was proceeding smoothly and significant progress had been achieved.
He said that two amnesties were announced last year with the release of 24,000 people from jail and over 270 being pardoned.
The death penalty was also removed from the country’s criminal code.
Aliyev also expressed his satisfaction with the Azeri government which he said had made the past year a successful one for the country in all sectors.