Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Thursday, 7 May 2009 18:21 UK

Enclave talks 'making progress'

Ilham Aliyev (left) and Serzh Sarkisian (2 November 2008)
Armenia and Azerbaijan signed an agreement on the territory in 2008

The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan have made significant progress at talks in Prague over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, diplomats say.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and his Azeri counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, discussed the region on the sidelines of the EU's Eastern Partnership summit.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies inside Azerbaijan but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians since a war in the 1990s.

Correspondents say the two states are under pressure to resolve the dispute.

Last month, a cautious diplomatic rapprochement was forged between Armenia and Turkey, which is closely allied to Azerbaijan.

Narrowing of differences

The Armenian and Azeri presidents attended talks at the US ambassador's residence in Prague before the start of the Eastern Partnership summit, which aims to forge closer ties between the EU and six former Soviet republics.

"They were able... to reduce their differences on basic principles and generally agree on the basic ideas they came here to discuss," said US Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Bryza, a co-chairman of the Minsk Group of countries mediating the talks.

"For the first time the presidents agreed on basic ideas surrounding these points," he told a news conference.


Mr Bryza gave no further details about the substance of the talks.

BBC regional analyst Steven Eke says Thursday's meeting in the Czech Republic is the latest sign of substantial progress that has been made in reinvigorating the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process in recent months.

While it has not resulted in a breakthrough, yet, it suggests a narrowing of differences between Armenia and Azerbaijan over how to resolve this long-running conflict, our correspondent says.

As the international mediation continues, there are signs of potential problems from Nagorno-Karabakh itself, whose leadership could still derail the peace process, he adds.

The region's parliament has said its government is unhappy that it has not been invited to participate as a direct party to the talks, but rather represented by the Armenian government.

Nagorno-Karabakh's leadership is also thought to disagree with Armenia over the possibility of surrendering to Azerbaijan occupied territory around the main town, Stepanakert, which they consider a security buffer.

Sporadic clashes have broken out over the territory in recent years, despite the signing of a ceasefire 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.

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