details added (first version posted at 15:43)
Baku, Azerbaijan, Dec. 3
By Anakhanum Khidayatova - Trend:
The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries' foreign ministers have said they welcome the upcoming meeting between President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan.
The Heads of Delegation of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries - Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State of the United States John Kerry, State Secretary for European Affairs of France Harlem Desir - remain united in our commitment to mediating a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
In light of the recent rise in tensions, we appeal to the sides to re-commit themselves to the peaceful resolution of the conflict and dispel any misperceptions that they are not serious about reaching a negotiated settlement, the statement said.
The sides should continue discussions from the Sochi, Wales, and Paris Summits of 2014 on elements of a comprehensive settlement, and should intensify their dialogue in 2016 on the basis of proposals currently under discussion.
"With the significant escalation in violence along the Line of Contact and Armenia-Azerbaijan border this year, the status quo has become unsustainable," the ministers said. "We especially condemn the use of mortars and other heavy weaponry, and regret deeply the civilian casualties these weapons have caused."
"The Co-Chairs have proposed risk-reduction measures that we encourage the sides to adopt, including an OSCE investigation mechanism," the statement said.
"We welcome the progress made by the sides in implementing the data exchange on missing persons under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)," the statement said. "We encourage further cooperation with ICRC and must ensure that it has sufficient funding to fully implement this important humanitarian measure."
"Azerbaijani authorities' decision to return an Armenian soldier who crossed the Line of Contact and an Armenian civilian who crossed the international border was a helpful humanitarian gesture and consistent with international humanitarian obligations," the statement said. "We urge the sides to return all remaining prisoners in the spirit of the Astrakhan Declaration of October 2010 issued by the presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Russian Federation."
"Over the past year, we have witnessed increasingly vocal attacks on the Co-Chairs and the Minsk Group format," the statement said. "We emphasize that the Minsk Group remains the only accepted format by the sides and has the full confidence of all OSCE participating States."
"The Co-Chairs will continue to brief international and regional organizations interested in supporting the Minsk Group process," the statement said. "We reaffirm our readiness to work closely with the sides on achieving our common objective of an enduring peace."
The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. As a result of the ensuing war, in 1992 Armenian armed forces occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts.
The two countries signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Russia, France and the US are currently holding peace negotiations.