Paris Talks Bring Together Leaders over Disputed Karabakh Region

French President Francois Hollande held talks with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan Monday in a fresh push to end the festering conflict over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh.

The summit in Paris enabled "the resumption of a direct dialogue" between the presidents of the two countries, though no accord was reached, the French presidency said in a statement after the talks ended.

The Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders however agreed to an exchange of information about people reported missing in the conflict, under the aegis of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the statement added.

The meeting followed a visit by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to both countries last week after a sharp escalation in violence over the region in recent months amid European concerns about the war raging in Ukraine.

The conflict goes back to the 1990s when Armenian separatists supported by Yerevan seized the mountainous region, which is mainly inhabited by ethnic Armenians, from Azerbaijan in a war that left some 30,000 people dead.

Despite years of negotiations since a 1994 ceasefire, the two sides have not yet signed a final peace deal on Karabakh, still internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan.

Oil-rich Baku, whose military spending exceeds Armenia's entire state budget, has threatened to take back the region by force if negotiations do not yield results.

Armenia -- heavily armed by Russia -- says it could crush any offensive.

Hollande held a meeting first with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and then with Armenia's Serzh Sarkisian, ahead of three-way talks and a dinner that took place in "an excellent atmosphere," the French leader's office said.

Although few expected a breakthrough in Paris after more than two decades of bloodshed, a French diplomatic source said it was "important to bring the two presidents together, to call on them to work together, to get back to the table to reduce tensions".

The two leaders have said they will continue their dialogue, notably on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly next year, the French presidency said.

Hollande had urged them to overcome their differences and prepare their people for a peace deal.

He hosted the talks in Paris with representatives of the Minsk group of mediators in the conflict appointed by the OSCE in 1992, which France co-chairs with Russia and the United States.

Last August saw a dramatic surge in violence across the countries' border and along the Karabakh frontline as more than 20 troops died in the deadliest clashes since the ceasefire.

Tensions between Azerbaijan and Moscow-allied Armenia have escalated as Russia confronts the West over Ukraine, where government forces are battling pro-Russian separatists.

Source: Agence France Presse

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