STEPANAKERT: Azerbaijan said on Wednesday that its forces have entered the second of the three areas Armenia will return as part of an agreement that ended fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh area.
The defence ministry in Baku said in a statement that “units of the Azerbaijani army entered the Kalbajar region on November 25” under the deal signed earlier this month by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia.
Wedged between the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region and the territory of Armenia, Kalbajar was initially scheduled for handover on November 15 but the deadline was postponed by Azerbaijan for humanitarian reasons.
“Engineering work has been completed to ensure the movement of our units in this direction, the difficult mountain roads along the route of the troops movement are being cleared of mines and prepared for use,” the ministry statement said.
Armenia agreed to hand over three districts around Karabakh — Aghdam, Kalbajar and Lachin — as part of the deal that stopped an Azerbaijani offensive that had reclaimed swathes of territory lost to Armenian separatists in a 1990s war.
Aghdam was ceded on November 20 and Lachin is to be handed over by December 1.
In the days before the handover, the residents of Kalbajar packed everything up and determined to spare no effort to deal with long-term enemies.
The AFP reporter saw that locals collected cables, loaded parts of the hydroelectric power station onto trucks, and even felled trees to take them with them when they left.
The Azerbaijanis who are expected to have fled the area 30 years ago will return. The local tiler Jaji Yehshibekyan said that the Armenians did not want to leave them any legacy.
“So they burn them (their houses), trees are cut down and people are taking everything away,” the 43-year-old told AFP.
Clashes between the ex-Soviet rivals over Nagorno-Karabakh broke out in late September, reigniting the long-simmering conflict over the mountainous region.
The ethnic Armenian enclave broke away from Baku s control in the 1990s war and declared independence, though it remained internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan.
The peace deal was reached after six weeks of heavy fighting that saw Azerbaijan s military overwhelm Armenian separatist forces and threatening to advance on Karabakh s main city Stepanakert.