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Nagorno-Karabakh agreement signed

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Armenia and Azerbaijan sign a joint agreement over disputed territory

Armenia and Azerbaijan have signed a joint agreement aimed at resolving their dispute over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh at talks near Moscow.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian, agreed to intensify their efforts to find a political settlement.

It is the first time in nearly 15 years that such a deal has been reached.

Sporadic clashes have continued over Nagorno-Karabakh, despite the signing of a ceasefire agreement in 1994.

Before the truce, several years of fighting had left some 30,000 people dead and forced more than one million from their homes.

In 2006, an overwhelming majority of Nagorno-Karabakh residents - mostly ethnic Armenians - voted in favour of declaring a sovereign state. The declaration has not been internationally recognised.

'Political settlement'

At Sunday's talks hosted at Meiendorf Castle, the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed "to speed up further moves in the negotiating process" over Nagorno-Karabakh, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in a statement.

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"They will facilitate the improvement of the situation in the South Caucasus and establishment of stability and security in the region through a political settlement of the conflict based on the principles and norms of international law and the decisions and documents adopted in this framework," he said.

The two country's foreign ministers would work with Russia, the US and France, co-chairmen of the Minsk Group of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which is seeking a diplomatic solution to the conflict, he added.

Mr Sarkisian and Mr Aliyev made no comment.

Hopes of a peace deal between Azerbaijan and Armenia were first raised in 2001, after a series of meetings between Armenia's former President, Robert Kocharyan, and Heydar Aliyev, the late Azeri leader. However, the talks and subsequent occasional meetings have come to nothing.

In March, the OSCE said it was sending a mission to Nagorno-Karabakh following serious clashes which reportedly left several soldiers dead on both sides.

Correspondents say Russia's brief war with Georgia in August has given impetus to international efforts to resolve disputes in the Caucasus, a region where Moscow is seeking greater influence.

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