Azerbaijan Dismisses OSCE Proposal to Withdraw Snipers

Azerbaijan spurned a proposal by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to halt shooting in its territorial dispute with Armenia, saying it would do so only if its neighbor did the same.

“We would be ready to withdraw snipers if Armenia started withdrawing from Azerbaijan’s occupied territory,” Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov told reporters today in Baku, the capital. “In the current circumstances, however, that would strengthen the status quo.”

Azerbaijan and Armenia fought over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly ethnic Armenian region that broke free of Baku’s control after the disintegration of the former Soviet Union in 1991. The war left Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azeri districts under Armenian control. Hostilities largely ended with a Russia-brokered cease-fire agreement in 1994, though a peace agreement has never been signed.

Eamon Gilmore, deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Ireland, which holds the OSCE rotating chairmanship in 2012, told the same press conference that withdrawal of snipers is important to prevent the conflict from escalating.

At least nine soldiers were killed in border clashes between the Azeri and Armenian forces last week as visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of a broader regional conflict with “disastrous and unpredictable” consequences.

Azerbaijan is the third-largest oil producer in the former Soviet Union after Russia and Kazakhstan. BP Plc and its partners have invested $35 billion in Azerbaijan’s energy projects since 1992.

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