Azerbaijan releases 15 Armenian POWs
Azerbaijan on Saturday released to Armenia 15 prisoners of war captured last year during hostilities over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, the foreign ministry in Baku said.
The ministry also said that under the deal mediated by Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, Yerevan reciprocated by providing Baku with maps of minefields in the conflict zone.
Fighting broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia in September 2020 over Nagorno-Karabakh, claiming some 6,000 lives over six weeks.
The war ended in November with a Russian-brokered ceasefire under which Yerevan ceded swathes of territory it had controlled for decades.
On Saturday, "Azerbaijan handed over to Armenia 15 detained Armenians in exchange for the map of 97,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines in the Agdam district," one of the territories Armenia has ceded to Baku, Azerbaijan's foreign ministry said in a statement.
The ministry also thanked US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, top US diplomat for Europe Philip Reeker, European Council President Charles Michel, and the OSCE Swedish chairmanship for their roles in the negotiations.
Garibashvili's office said in a statement that "an important step has been made towards the amelioration of the security environment in the South Caucasus region."
A senior EU diplomat said Michel helped broker "parallel humanitarian gestures" prior to the agreement's announcement.
Michel considered it "a first step towards renewing confidence, an effort the EU is ready to fully support", the diplomat added.
Russia, which has deployed peacekeeping troops to Karabakh, also welcomed the move.
"Wonderful and long-awaited news. We welcome such steps," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram.
The mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh is one of the most heavily mined places in the former Soviet Union.
Seven Azerbaijani troops and 18 civilians have died and 110 have been wounded by mines in and near Nagorno-Karabakh since the ceasefire, the Azerbaijani government says.
Both Azerbaijani and Armenian forces planted mines during a bloody conflict in the early 1990s.