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Azerbaijan visit to address Karabakh conflict

Azerbaijan is suffering from poverty and a scarcity of jobs Keystone

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey is in Azerbaijan for a three-day visit at a time of growing Swiss interest in the southern Caucasus region.

This content was published on February 23, 2006 - 10:03

While the trip will focus on economic ties, the issue of Azerbaijan's continuing conflict with Armenia over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh is due to be raised.

The foreign ministry said three bilateral agreements would be signed with Baku.

"We are talking about an investment protection agreement, a double taxation agreement and a framework agreement for technical, humanitarian and financial cooperation," spokesman Lars Knuchel told swissinfo.

"The latter is to be seen in the context of the humanitarian and development work that Switzerland is doing in the southern Caucasus region and will allow Switzerland to engage more deeply in that area."

On Thursday the two sides signed a joint declaration on migration, which Switzerland hopes will result in negotiations on a repatriation agreement.

"The beginning of a partnership on this issue is important for Switzerland," Calmy-Rey said.

Irritation

Calmy-Rey had indicated plans to visit both Azerbaijan and Armenia this year. The fact that she has chosen to visit Baku first has caused irritation among the Armenian community in Switzerland.

The co-president of the Swiss-Armenian society, Sarkis Shahinian, told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper the visit showed that Switzerland's priority was good relations with Azerbaijan.

He said he was "concerned" that Switzerland was endangering its role as a neutral mediator in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, the predominantly ethnic Armenian territory within Azerbaijan which declared independence in 1991.

But Knuchel said Switzerland didn't want to upset anyone in the southern Caucasus region, made up of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

"The visit expresses the growing interest of Switzerland in this region as a whole," the spokesman said.

Conflict

He said the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh and the search for a solution to the long-running conflict would feature in the talks.

Tensions between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijan erupted in the late 1980s in the dying days of the Soviet Union and developed into a full-scale conflict in 1991. A Russian-brokered ceasefire in 1994 left the territory under ethnic Armenian control, but no final settlement has ever been signed.

Face-to-face talks between the two sides earlier this month ended without agreement.

Knuchel recalled that Switzerland has offered its services and participated in efforts to resolve the conflict within the framework of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and by offering to host talks in Switzerland.

"Switzerland has not just hosted such talks, but also repeatedly offered its services. Whether within the OSCE framework or not, Switzerland is ready whenever the parties need to make use of its services," he said.

swissinfo, Morven McLean

Key facts

Micheline Calmy-Rey is in Baku from Wednesday until Friday.
The foreign minister will have meetings with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Artur Rasizada.
She will also have talks with her opposite number, Elmar Mammadyrov, and the ministers for tax and economic development.

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In brief

The priorities of Swiss development cooperation in the southern Caucasus are: good governance and the promotion of peace, sustainable management of natural resources and humanitarian programmes.

The Swiss government's financial commitment to the region in 2005 was budgeted at SFr17.7 million.

Switzerland represents Azerbaijan at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

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