Leaders pan Nagorno-Karabakh elections

YEREVAN, Armenia, July 24 (UPI) -- Presidential elections in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have added fuel the long-simmering conflict there, world leaders say.

Bako Sahakyan last week was declared the winner of last Thursday's vote in the disputed predominantly Armenian-Christian enclave, which broke away from Muslim Azerbaijan in a bloody 2-year conflict starting in 1992 and voted to become a sovereign state in 2006.


Azerbaijan considers Nagorno-Karabakh part of its territory and has threatened to retake it by force if necessary if negotiations over returning it to the fold aren't successful.

Violence continues to flare along the "line of contact" between the enclave and Azerbaijan, with Baku claiming to have lost six soldiers and Armenia four last month.

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Sahakyan, the incumbent president in the self-proclaimed nation, garnered more than 66 percent of the vote, defeating retired Gen. Vitaly Balasanian, separatist authorities said.


He was congratulated Friday by Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan but the vote was roundly condemned by other leaders from around the world, including the Russian, U.S. and French members of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is seeking a political solution to the conflict.

They largely agreed the unsanctioned elections have added to the intractability of the two sides.

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Georgia, for instance, declared its "unequivocal support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and does not recognize so-called 'presidential elections' conducted in Nagorno-Karabakh."

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton also condemned the vote, saying the European Union "does not recognize the constitutional and legal framework" in which the elections were conducted and instead urged a resolution to the conflict through the Minsk Group.

That group's co-chairmen -- Ambassadors Robert Bradtke of the United States, Igor Popov of Russia and Jacques Faure of France -- declared the vote will have no bearing on their long-standing efforts to negotiate a settlement.

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"The co-chairs acknowledge the need for the de facto authorities in (Nagorno-Karabakh) to try to organize democratically the public life of their population with such a procedure," they said. "However, the co-chairs note that none of their three countries, nor any other country, recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent and sovereign state."


They declared the "procedures" of last Thursday should in no way "prejudge the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh or the outcome of the ongoing negotiations to bring a lasting and peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict."

Turkey, a staunch supporter of Azerbaijan, declared the Nagorno-Karabakh vote to be illegitimate, calling it "a total contravention of international law and contrary to the expectations of the international community.

"These elections which constitute a clear breach of the U.N. Security Council resolutions and OSCE principles present a new example of the unilateral efforts to legitimize the present unlawful situation in Nagorno-Karabakh," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.

The Minsk Group mediators decried the lack of progress in settlement talks during the Group of 20 meeting last month in Mexico declaring their disappointment that Armenia and Azerbaijan "did not take the decisive steps that our countries called for" last year at the G8 meeting in France.

Those steps included recognition by both sides of the "basic principles" of the return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control, the establishment of a corridor linking Armenia to the enclave and the introduction of a peacekeeping force, among other measures.

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