Historic trip to Armenia focuses on mediation

Calmy-Rey (left) in talks with her Armenian counterpart, Vardan Oskanyan Keystone

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has signed an agreement on double taxation during a visit to Armenia – the first visit ever by a Swiss cabinet minister.

This content was published on June 12, 2006 - 19:27

Switzerland also offered to act as a mediator in the long-running conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Calmy-Rey also laid a wreath at a memorial for the victims of the massacre by troops of the former Ottoman Empire 90 years ago.

Calmy-Rey held talks with her Armenian counterpart, Vardan Oskanyan, in the capital Yerevan on Monday. The discussions focused on bilateral relations and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, according to the Swiss foreign ministry.

Switzerland offered to act as a mediator in a bid to broker a peace agreement. Earlier this year Calmy-Rey also visited neighbouring Azerbaijan.

However, Calmy-Rey said neither of the two countries in the southern Caucasus region had requested further steps by Switzerland.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh between 1988 and 1994, killing tens of thousands of people and forcing hundreds of thousands out of their homes.

Massacre

Calmy-Rey said she also discussed the killing of up to 1.5 million ethnic Armenians by troops of the former Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1919.

She laid a wreath at the monument for the victims of massacre.

"I wanted to express my sympathy with the people," she said. She played down a possible worsening of relations with Turkey over the issue.

The Swiss government does not recognise the killings and deportations as genocide, but one chamber of the Swiss parliament voted in 2003 to follow the United Nations and the European parliament in doing so.

Calmy-Rey also signed an agreement on double taxation in Yerevan in an effort to spur closer economic relations between Switzerland and Armenia. Switzerland has been providing development to Yerevan since a powerful earthquake hit northern Armenia in 1988.

Israel

Calmy-Rey had arrived in Armenia after a brief visit to Israel at the weekend to discuss a planned conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva later this month.

The conference is expected to approve the introduction of a third humanitarian emblem – a red crystal – to accommodate Israel's Red Star of David organisation.

The humanitarian agencies of Israel and the Palestinian Authorities agreed on the symbol at a conference in Geneva last November. Switzerland is the depositary state of the Geneva Conventions, a set of regulations to protect civilians in times of conflict.

The Swiss foreign minister said she also criticised the Israeli army for firing artillery at targets in densely populated areas in the Gaza Strip. At least seven were killed in the attack on Friday.

Calmy-Rey added that the Israeli foreign minister, Zipi Livni, had apologised for the incident and promised to launch an investigation.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The former Soviet republic of Armenia became independent in 1991.

An agreement to boost trade between Switzerland and the southern Caucasus republic came into force in 2000. Two years later both countries signed an investment protection accord.

Switzerland has been providing humanitarian aid to Armenia since 1988. This year. It earmarked just under SFr4 million ($3.2 million) for development aid this year.

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