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Armenia, Azerbaijan agree to prisoner exchange, work toward peace treaty

Only a few months after Azerbaijan seized the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenia in a swift attack, the two countries have agreed to recommit to working toward a lasting peace agreement. File photo by Anatoly Maltsev/EPA-EFE/ANATOLY MALTSEV
Only a few months after Azerbaijan seized the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenia in a swift attack, the two countries have agreed to recommit to working toward a lasting peace agreement. File photo by Anatoly Maltsev/EPA-EFE/ANATOLY MALTSEV

Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to exchange prisoners as they recommit to normalizing relations with intentions of reaching a peace treaty, their two governments said.

The announcement comes months after Azerbaijan violently seized the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenia in a resumption of fighting that threatened to restart the deadly war of 2020.

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A joint statement Thursday from the Office of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia and the Office of President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan states that following talks between the Caucasian nations, they have agreed to take "tangible" confidence-building steps, including the exchange of prisoners.

The countries said that "driven by the values of humanism and as a gesture of goodwill" Azerbaijan will release 32 Armenian military servicemen and Armenia will release two Azerbaijani soldiers.

"The Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan share the view that there is a historical chance to achieve a long-awaited peace in the region," the statement said.

"[The] two countries reconfirm their intention to normalize relations and to reach the peace treaty on the basis of respect for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity."

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In another gesture of goodwill, Armenia said it will also support Azerbaijan's bid to host the 29th Session of the Conference of Parties, better known as the COP29 United Nations climate change conference, by withdrawing its own candidacy.

And in turn, Azerbaijan said it will support the Armenia's candidacy for Eastern European Group COP Bureau membership.

The development was welcomed by the United States, which commended Aliyev and Pashinyan in for their efforts "to lay the groundwork for a more peaceful and prosperous future for the people of the south Caucasus," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Charles Michel, the European Union's top diplomat, said he was "delighted" to welcome the "major breakthrough" in Armenia-Azerbaijan relations.

"Establishing and deepening bilateral dialogue between sides has been a key objective of the [EU]-led Brussels process: today's progress is a key step," he said in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"I now encourage the leaders to finalize the [Armenia-Azerbaijan] peace deal ASAP."

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