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Elections in Breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Draw Reaction - 2004-08-12


Local elections were held last Sunday in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave located inside Azerbaijan which has long been in dispute with neighboring Armenia. The voting angered the Azeri government, although longstanding efforts for foreign power including the United States to mediate in the dispute will continue.

Some international organizations have criticized local elections held last Sunday in Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in Azerbaijan populated by ethnic Armenians that broke away after a bloody war ended a decade ago.

Authorities in Azerbaijan called the voting illegal, as it was held outside their jurisdiction and did not take into account the wishes of refugees who were forced to flee the mountainous region during the conflict.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has long overseen negotiations aimed at bringing peace to the region.

OSCE spokesman Ayhan Evrensel says the organization's position is that any lasting solution must be reached by the two parties involved. ?What the OSCE through the co-chairs is trying is do is facilitate a solution, to bring the sides together and discuss about the issues. It has to come from both sides,? he said.

Along with Russia and France, the United States has led what is known as the "Minsk group" of 12 nations attempting to mediate an end to the dispute.

On Monday, the American embassy in Azerbaijan restated the longstanding U.S. position that "the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must be respected". It added that the elections would likely not have an impact on the peace process in the region.

There have been periodic meetings of the Minsk group, as well as encounters between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia, but so far, all attempts at resolving the dispute have been inconclusive.

An estimated 35,000 people died and one million forced to flee their homes in a conflict that lasted from 1988 to 1994, when a cease-fire left ethnic Armenian forces in control of the enclave as well as a large buffer zone around it.

Shooting incidents still occur periodically along the cease-fire line not far from Nagorno-Karabakh?s capital city, Stepanakert.

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