Five Armenian POWs released by Azerbaijan
Five more Armenian prisoners of war were freed by Azerbaijan on Thursday, Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) announced. Over 150 Armenian POWs have been released since the end of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war.
“We welcome this action as a step toward normalizing relations” between Yerevan and Baku, the NSS said in a statement.
The latest releases follow the fourth round of talks in Brussels on 31 August between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
The two leaders met under the mediation of Charles Michel, the President of the European Council.
Upon the release of five Armenian POWs, Michel noted on Twitter that it was the first time POWs were released without third party mediation.
"That handover is taking place bilaterally is a first - and to both Azerbaijan's and Armenia's credit," he said.
Ned Price, the Spokesperson for the US State Department, also praised the release of POWs, saying:
"We welcome reports of Armenian detainees returned home, a positive development for Armenia and Azerbaijan peace process. We hope all remaining detainees return home soon and Azerbaijan and Armenia continue taking steps to build trust and resolve outstanding differences."
The exact number of Armenian troops captured by Azerbaijan during or shortly after the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war is not known. Most of the POWs were reportedly convicted on "terror" charges and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
Before Thursday, Yerevan and Baku put the number of Armenian POWs at around 40, but Armenian human rights lawyers say the real number of Armenians held in Azerbaijan is higher.