(Vatican Radio) Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev were expected to meet in Vienna later Monday to discuss a fragile cease-fire in Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region following the worst violence there in decades.
Listen to Stefan Bos' report:
It would be their first face-to-face encounter since the latest fighting in the mountainous and heavily-forested patch of land killed dozens of people.
Their talks focus on how the restore a sense of stability in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh which on April 2 saw the outbreak of the most serious clashes since a shaky cease-fire was reached in 1994 between Azerbaijan and Armenia-backed separatists.
A fresh Russian-brokered cease-fire deal went into effect on April 5. But both sides in the conflict have accused each other of breaching the truce agreement.
Nagorno-Karabakh has been internationally recognized as being part of ex-Soviet Azerbaijan.
But ethnic Armenians, who make up the vast majority, of the population reject Azeri rule. They have been running their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan's troops were pushed out in a war in the 1990s.
This even led to tension during the recent Eurovision Song Contest. In a controversial move, Armenian singer Iveta Mukuchyan waved the flag during a qualifying event. “I am living in Germany and I am Armenian. But you know I am international, I grew up like this. So all I want is peace and just spread the love that's why I put out the flag.”
Critics say Azerbaijan has been escalating tensions as it wants to regain control over its territory.
But speaking ahead of Monday's peace talks, spokesman Hikmat Hajiyev from Azerbaijan's foreign ministry denies those charges. “Recently the Armenian president declared that Armenia is switching from static defence to deterrent strategy. And they also publicly stated that Armenia could potentially take preemptive attacks against Azerbaijani forces to capture new territories to guarantee the security of occupied territories,” he said.
Monday's peace talk between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan is a first step to bring stability at a time when both nations prepare for a visit of Pope Francis this year.
The deep-rooted tensions are also a hangover from the bloody war the two sides fought from 1988 to 1994. Up to 30,000 people were killed in that conflict, and there were allegations of human rights abuses by both sides.
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