YEREVAN — A senior U.S. diplomat has voiced concern over the lack of progress in the release of prisoners of war following the 2020 conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Six weeks of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in and around Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh ended in November with a Moscow-brokered cease-fire deal. More than 6,000 people were killed during the conflict.
Under the truce agreement, a chunk of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven districts around it were placed under Azerbaijani administration after almost 30 years of control by ethnic Armenian forces. The agreement also provided for an exchange of POWs and other detained people.
“I think it’s important to remember that this is about human beings, it’s about people on both sides of the conflict who are the children, the spouses, the parents of people, and we want to see all detained people returned,” acting Assistant U.S. Secretary of State at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker told RFE/RL.
In December, after several weeks of cease-fire, the two sides finally exchanged prisoners of war. Some 44 Armenian and 12 Azeri prisoners were exchanged on December 15.
Armenian authorities have said that about 60 Armenian servicemen were captured by Azerbaijan as prisoners of war. Azerbaijan has not confirmed the information.
It is unclear how many more prisoners remain in captivity on either side.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) in March called on Azerbaijan to investigate all allegations of ill-treatment against Armenian prisoners of war.
“I’ve expressed concern as has the United States government repeatedly over the need to have all prisoners, all detainees freed and returned home. We have to remember that this conflict affects people,” Reeker said.
In recent weeks, the two sides have blamed each other for a number of incidents along their border, putting pressure on the cease-fire in the run-up to Armenia’s snap parliamentary elections on June 20.
Reeker said that Washington was ready to offer help, including technical expertise, to settle the issues regarding the border demarcation between the two sides.
“We may be able to help with technical expertise, with imagery and we are willing to do that, we are willing to work the other co-chairs [of the Minsk Group of negotiators for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict] or others as necessary,” Reeker said.