Azerbaijan swaps 15 Armenian prisoners for map showing landmines

·1 min read
Azerbaijani service members walk during mine lifting in Agdam

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Azerbaijan said on Saturday it had handed over 15 Armenian prisoners in exchange for a map detailing the location of landmines in Agdam, a region relinquished by ethnic Armenian forces as a part of a deal to end a six-week war last year.

A Russian-brokered ceasefire halted fighting that saw the Azeri army drive ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had controlled since the 1990s in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Irregular skirmishes continue, highlighting the fragility of the ceasefire.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the news and said he hoped it would lay the groundwork for more cooperation.

"We continue to call for the return of all detainees and stand ready to assist the countries of the region in their efforts to continue cooperation and resolve outstanding issues between them," Blinken said in a statement.

The prisoner exchange deal, the first agreement of its kind between the two countries, was announced by the Azeri Foreign Ministry.

Prisoners of war are a key issue for Armenia, while landmines continue to inflict casualties in Azerbaijan.

Two journalists and a local official were killed on June 4 when a landmine exploded in Azerbaijan's Kalbajar district on territory that was vacated by ethnic Armenian forces in November.

(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Additional reporting by Lucia Mutikani in Washington; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Helen Popper and Daniel Wallis)

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