Azeri paper questions OSCE fact-finding mission itinerary change

Ekspress, Baku
2 Feb 05


An Azerbaijani newspaper has quoted Armenian sources as saying that
the US and French co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group would leave an
international mission investigating Azerbaijani allegations of illegal
Armenian settlement in occupied areas of Azerbaijan before its task
was complete. Ekspress daily also said the itinerary of the OSCE
mission had been changed and speculated that either the Armenians had
refused to allow it into the occupied district of Lacin or the mission
experts were not taking their responsibilities seriously . The
following is the text of Alakbar Raufoglu report by Azerbaijani
newspaper Ekspress on 2 February headlined "'A stroll' in the occupied
area" and subheaded "Why didn't 'the fact-finders' visit Lacin?" and
"The US and French co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group are leaving the
investigating mission"; subheadings are as published.

The US and French co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, Steven Mann and
Bernard Fassier, will not remain to the end with an international
mission investigating illegal settlements in Azerbaijan's occupied
territories, Armenian sources quoted an expert of the fact-finding
mission as telling a meeting of Armenians in Kalbacar [District].

Mann's early withdrawal from the mission is explained by the fact that
he has been invited to an international event in Georgia. The
co-chairman will be in Tbilisi on 3-6 February and will travel to
Yerevan and then to Baku to join the mission. French diplomat Fassier,
for his part, prefers watching the fact-finding mission "more from the
side". The co-chairman attributes his position to the fact that he is
just "starting to know the region". Thus, unlike other mediators
Fassier is not fully familiar with "the conflict and the peculiarities
of the region where it has occurred". That is why he wants to hold
"familiarization meetings" outside the fact-finding mission and
independent investigation.

Baku does not have any information about the plans of the
co-chairman. "We have not been informed that any of the members of the
OSCE Minsk Group will withdraw from the investigation in the occupied
territories ahead of time. None of the co-chairmen said in Baku that
they would leave the fact-finding mission at a particular stage," the
head of the press service of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, Matin
Mirza, told Ekspress yesterday evening [1 February]. The reports that
the US and French co-chairmen will not complete their work in the
occupied districts "are contradictory" and should be investigated, he
said.

At the same time, Baku does not believe that it is a "big deal" if the
mediators leave the fact-finding mission at any stage, because "the
report to be prepared is important to us".

Some sources say that Mann knew that he would take part in the
international event in Tbilisi, but it was scheduled for 4 February,
the day when the mission was to investigate in Fuzuli [District]. This
district is the last on the list of cases of illegal settlements
compiled by the Azerbaijani side according to the "scoping document".

Why was the itinerary changed?

Contrary to expectations, the mission continued its investigations
yesterday not in Lacin [District], but in Fuzuli and Cabrayil. Under
the itinerary agreed during the mission's briefing discussions in
Baku, Lacin was to be visited before those two districts. Moreover,
the documents presented to the co-chairmen indicate cases of
settlement in places between Kalbacar and Lacin.

It is very interesting to see that the mission covered a long distance
(roughly the Lacin-Qubadli-Zangilan-Cabrayil-Fuzuli route) to appear
in Fuzuli and Cabrayil after Kalbacar.

Armenian sources provide no information about the reasons for this
"tactical" change in the itinerary of the experts. It is just reported
that the mission investigated only the parts of both districts (Fuzuli
and Cabrayil) bordering Iran yesterday. There is no information about
the results so far.

Some reports say that the Armenians have been predominantly settled in
Lacin. It seems that either the Armenians did not want to let the
mission into that district because they did not manage to cover the
traces or, to put it mildly, the "fact-finders" are taking a stroll in
the region.

"Our investigations are being accompanied by interesting
events. Although the mission could not fully clarify the information
it has, we have plenty of facts here," the head of the "fact-finders",
German expert Emily Margarethe Haber, told journalists yesterday
morning before leaving Kalbacar. She said that the mission met many
Armenians settled in that district during the investigation. The
Armenian community said that they used to live in various Azerbaijani
cities and districts.

"We asked them how they got there, if they live in the region
permanently, what they do and what their citizenship is," Ms Haber
said. But she did not comment on the observations of the mission. "We
are compiling what we see, comparing and sharing."

At the same time, the OSCE expert said that it was "striking" that "so
many" Armenians were able to live in the occupied districts, as living
conditions in that region are inadequate.

Settlement initiators

"It is normal that Armenian citizens live temporarily or permanently
in the occupied territories. But I did not see any conditions or
grounds for permanent settlement," the Russian co-chairman of the OSCE
Minsk Group, Yuriy Merzlyakov, said in Kalbacar.

The main issue for the mission is the initiators of settlement, he
said. "It should simply be understood if people come here of their own
accord and live in these conditions."

"We will visit Fuzuli and other districts, too. The situation may be
different there. These peculiarities are in the information provided
to us. I think settlement is a broad issue and can be approached from
the viewpoint of the specific conditions of the occupied districts," a
Swedish expert said.

The mission needs "enough" time to fully investigate the information
it has in Baku, the expert said.

Azerbaijan has provided the international experts with video and audio
materials as well as maps confirming illegal settlements in the
occupied districts. Baku has reported the settlement of 23,000
people.

Armenians do not leave "fact-finders" alone

Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani side is investigating whether the
fact-finding mission is visiting the occupied districts with a
representative of the Karabakh separatists.

"This is not accurate information yet and we are trying to clarify
it," Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov told journalists yesterday.

Armenian sources reported that the "so-called deputy foreign minister"
of the separatists, Masis Mailyan, is accompanying the visit of the
OSCE experts. Under the official mandate of the mission, the personal
envoy of the OSCE chairman, Andrzej Kaspizyk, and his assistants
should have guided the mission.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry has said that if the OSCE experts are
found to have violated the terms, they will be required to provide an
official explanation.

"These reports could also be disruptive," Matin Mirza told
Ekspress. The list of those who accompany the mission was broadly
discussed in Baku last week and the final mandate was achieved "with
the consent and assurance of the co-chairmen as well", he noted.

The mission's investigation is expected to end late this week. A
factual report will be prepared at the end of the visit and forwarded
to Vienna.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress