Baku Summons France Envoy over Rebel Leader's Visit

Azerbaijan on Wednesday summoned the French ambassador to protest a visit by the leader of the breakaway Nagorny Karabakh region, the Caucasus republic's foreign ministry said.

"France's ambassador to Baku, Pascal Monnier, has been summoned to Azerbaijan's foreign ministry and handed a note of protest over the separatist leader's visit to France on May 17-19," Azerbaijan's foreign ministry spokesman, Hikmet Hajiyev, told AFP.

Bako Sahakian's visit "harms the spirit of friendly Azerbaijani-French relations and contradicts France's mandate as a co-mediator to Karabakh peace talks", he added.

Along with the United States and Russia, Paris co-chairs the Minsk Group of mediators in Baku's peace talks with Armenia over their decades-long dispute for control of Nagorny Karabakh.

The two Caucasus countries have been locked in conflict since a bloody war in the early 1990s following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Yerevan-backed ethnic Armenian separatists seized control of Karabakh during the conflict that left some 30,000 dead.

Despite years of negotiations, the two countries have not signed a final peace deal following a shaky 1994 truce, and clashes have intensified over the past year along the Karabakh frontline.

The predominantly Armenian-populated region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

Baku, whose military spending exceeds Armenia's entire state budget, has threatened to take back the disputed territory by force if negotiations fail to yield results.

Backed militarily by Russia, Armenia says it could crush any offensive.

Source: Agence France Presse

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