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Monday, March 30, 1998 Published at 08:58 GMT 09:58 UK


Azerbaijan keeps close eye on Armenian poll
image: [ Armenian Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan and his wife, Bella, voting Monday ]
Armenian Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan and his wife, Bella, voting Monday

Voting has ended in the second round of presidential elections in Armenia, over the border in Azerbaijan the election is being watched closely.

The two countries' bitter war over the disputed enclave of Nagorno Karabakh ended in a ceasefire in 1994 but negotiations over its future status remain deadlocked.

One of the two remaining candidates in today's run-off for president, Robert Kocharian, is a former leader of Nagorno Karabakh.

As Rachel Harvey now reports from the Azeri capital, Baku, there are concerns in Azerbaijan that Mr Kocharian may take a hard line on the issue if he were elected president:

The issue of Nagorno Karabakh dominates politics in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The reason presidential elections are taking place in Armenia is that the previous incumbent, Levon Ter-Petrossian, was forced to resign over his policy towards the disputed enclave.
BBC Correspondent Karey Harvey's despatch in Realaudio (1'41')

He had suggested he was willing to accept an international peace plan and make concessions over Karabakh. The man who forced Mr Ter-Petrossian to step down is one of the two candidates to succeed him, Robert Kocharian.

Mr Kocharian is the current prime minister and a former leader of Nagorno Karabakh. His uncompromising stand on the status of Karabakh makes it difficult to see how, if he were elected president, progress could be made in negotiations with Azerbaijan.

In a recent newspaper interview, Mr Kocharian stressed the need for direct talks between Azerbaijan and leaders in Nagorno Karabakh. But Azerbaijan has repeatedly said it will not talk to people it regards as separatists.

The Azeri government has made no official statement as to which of Armenia's presidential candidates it would prefer but an Azeri presidential advisor stressed that Armenia's future depended on a resolution of the Karabakh problem. That is equally true for Azerbaijan itself.

The huge oil reserves in and around the Caspian Sea mean that the region as a whole could enjoy future years of economic prosperity. But foreign investment is likely to flow much more freely if the Nagorno Karabakh issue can be brought to a peaceful conclusion.

Azerbaijan is watching and waiting to see if the next president of Armenia will be a man it can talk to.

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