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Azerbaijan Criticized For Freeing Convicted Killer
288 days ago
(RTTNews) - The European Union, United States and Russia have criticized Azerbaijan for freeing a convicted murderer after his extradition from Hungary, and expressed concerns over its possible impact on the international efforts aimed at bringing peace to the central Asian region.
In a joint statement on Monday, EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton and Stefan Fule, European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, expressed concerns over the move by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to pardon the Azerbaijani military officer convicted of hacking an Armenian officer to death in Budapest eight years ago.
The Azeri serviceman, Ramil Safarov, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Budapest City Court in 2006 after he confessed to killing Armenian officer, Lt. Gurgen Markarian, with an axe while the two men were in Hungary for attending a NATO language course in 2004.
Ashton and Fule noted in their joint statement that Safarov was transferred from Hungary to Azerbaijan on the "basis of an Azerbaijani request, in the framework of the Convention of Strasbourg on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons of 21 March 1983, to serve the rest of his sentence."
Stressing that EU representatives are in contact with the relevant authorities and will continue to follow the situation closely, the two EU officials urged "Azerbaijan and Armenia to exercise restraint, on the ground as well as in public statements, in order to prevent an escalation of the situation." They also called on the two nations to act responsibly in the interest of regional stability and on-going efforts towards reconciliation.
Russia also expressed "deep concern" over the extradition and pardon, saying: "We believe that these actions of Azerbaijani as well as Hungarian authorities contradict internationally brokered efforts, of the OSCE's Minsk group in particular, to ease tensions in the region."
Separately, the co-chairs of the Minsk group expressed their "deep concern and regret for the damage the pardon and any attempts to glorify the crime have done to the peace process and trust between the sides." Further, U.S. President Barack Obama said he was "deeply concerned" about the incident.
Safarov was sent back to Azerbaijan on Friday after Budapest received assurances from the Azerbaijani Justice Ministry that Safarov's sentence, which included the possibility of parole after 25 years, would be enforced in his home nation.
Despite the assurances provided, Safarov was pardoned by President Ilham Aliyev soon after his arrival in the capital Baku on Friday. In addition, he was promoted to the rank of Major, given an apartment and all the pay he had lost since his arrest eight years ago.
In retaliation to Hungary's decision to transfer Safarov to Azerbaijan and his subsequent release by authorities there, Armenia on Sunday announced its decision to immediately suspend all diplomatic relations with Budapest.
In an apparent warning to Azerbaijan, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian said: "We don't want a war, but if we have to, we will fight and win. We are not afraid of killers, even if they enjoy the protection of the head of state."
Incidentally, Armenia and Azerbaijan, both former Soviet republics, had fought a war over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s. Armenian troops are currently occupying the enclave after they helped Armenian separatists to seize control from Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. The war for the enclave resulted in the death of nearly 30,000 people and forced two million others to flee their homes.
Although the two countries signed a cease-fire agreement in May 1994, the dispute remains unresolved despite continued international efforts spearheaded by Russia, France and the U.S. While Azerbaijan demands an immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from the enclave, Armenia insists on the territory's independence.
Despite the standing cease-fire, brief but fierce border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in early June had led to the deaths of eight soldiers, including five Azerbaijanis and three Armenians.
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