Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Frozen Karabakh war could flare again -think-tank

Tue Nov 13, 2007

MOSCOW, Nov 14 (Reuters) - A 20-year-old conflict between ex-Soviet neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan could re-ignite into a war that would threaten the region's oil exports, an influential think-tank said on Wednesday.

The two countries fought a war in the 1990s over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh which killed about 35,000 people and displaced over one million. A ceasefire was agreed in 1994 but the search for a lasting peace is stalled.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report the fragile truce is under threat because Azerbaijan is using cash from oil exports to beef up its military and both sides are refusing to compromise.

A major oil pipeline linking Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea oilfields to the Mediterranean Sea runs a few kilometres (miles) to the east of Nagorno-Karabakh. Operated by a BP-led (BP.L: Quote, Profile, Research) consortium it will soon pump one million barrels of oil a day.

"The international community needs to take the threat of war seriously," said Magdalena Frichova, ICG's Caucasus Project Director. "The risk of armed conflict is growing, and the dangers of complacency enormous."

The report said the riskiest period could be around 2012, when Azerbaijan's oil exports are expected to start slowing, possibly triggering economic problems.

"A military adventure might seem a tempting way to distract citizens from economic crisis," ICG said in a preface to the report.

"Important oil and gas pipelines near Nagorno-Karabakh would likely be among the first casualties of a new war, something Europe and the U.S. in particular have an interest in avoiding."

The dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh is one of four so-called frozen conflicts which erupted across the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s and are still unresolved. The other conflicts are in Georgia and Moldova.

Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan but since the war it has been under the de facto control of ethnic Armenian separatists.

The separatists, who are supported by neighbouring Armenia, also control a large chunk of Azerbaijan's territory adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan says it will restore control over the territory, and has refused to rule out using force.

The ICG report said the United States and European Union should make resolution of the conflict a condition of their relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia.

It also said Baku and Yerevan should sign a document of basic principles to establish ground rules for peace talks. It said this should be done before elections in both countries next year which could complicate the search for peace. (Editing by Catherine Evans)

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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