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Armenia to hand over war dead in presence of Red Cross representatives

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was ready to facilitate the handover

YEREVAN, October 10. /TASS/. The bodies of Azerbaijan’s soldiers killed in Nagorno-Karabakh will be handed over only in presence of representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Armenian Defense Ministry Representative Artsrun Hovhannisyan said at a briefing on Saturday.

According to Hovhannisyan, the army of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh "allowed the adversary to approach one of its position" to recover the soldiers’ bodies, but "the adversary used this Armenian step for a provocation."

"Therefore, I state that from now on, such processes will be carried out only in the presence of representatives of the Red Cross," Hovhannisyan said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) welcomed the ceasefire deal, saying that it stands ready to facilitate the handover of bodies of those killed in action and the release of detainees.

"We are in regular discussions with the sides and expressed our readiness to engage in further discussions on the nature of the involvement of the ICRC to support the return of detainees and human remains, including the logistics and security guarantees for our teams," ICRC Eurasia Regional Director in Geneva Martin Schuepp said. "It is also our hope that this agreement translates into meaningful relief for families after weeks of intense fighting."

"The ICRC has a long-standing history as a neutral intermediary in conflicts around the world, and it is our hope that this operation can move forward quickly so the remains of those killed in action can be returned to their loves ones and mourned with dignity," Schuepp said. "We are also here to facilitate the release of detainees for the sides of the conflict so that they can be reunited with their families."

The ICRC recalled that it had already supported the sides in carrying out similar operations in the previous escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh in April 2016.

At the talks, brokered by Russia and held in Moscow on October 9, Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed a ceasefire. It came into effect at 12.00 local time on Saturday, October 10 for humanitarian reasons, for the exchange of detainees and recovery of war dead.

Renewed clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia erupted on September 27, with intense battles raging in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The area experienced flare-ups of violence in the summer of 2014, in April 2016 and this past July. Azerbaijan and Armenia have imposed martial law and launched mobilization efforts. Both parties to the conflict have reported casualties, among them civilians.

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the highland region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory that had been part of Azerbaijan before the Soviet Union break-up, but primarily populated by ethnic Armenians, broke out in February 1988 after the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region announced its withdrawal from the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.

In 1992-1994, tensions boiled over and exploded into large-scale military action for control over the enclave and seven adjacent territories after Azerbaijan lost control of them. Talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement have been ongoing since 1992 under the OSCE Minsk Group, led by its three co-chairs - Russia, France and the United States.