By Vafa Ismayilova
Presidential aide Hikmat Hajiyev has said that mines implanted by Armenia on Azerbaijan's liberated territories is a serious threat to civilians' health and safety and an obstacle to the region's socio-economic development.
"In 2005, UNGA declared 4 April as International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. Implanted mines by Armenia constitute a serious threat to the safety, health and lives of the civilian population, or an impediment to social and economic development in liberated lands," Hajiyev said on his official Twitter account on April 4.
Armenia's ongoing ethnic cleansing policy
He said that Armenia's refusal to provide minefield maps disturbs peace and trust in the region. Hajiyev stressed that according to international humanitarian law, Armenia grossly violates the Azerbaijani civilians' rights, Trend reported.
“Besides, Armenia, in violation of international laws, refuses to provide Azerbaijan with maps of minefields. Mines are killing the Azerbaijani population. The planted mines also delay the process of restoring the liberated territories,” he added.
Hajiyev said that the environment is polluted by harmful substances contained in the mines and unexploded ordnance.
He described Yerevan's refusal to provide mine maps to Baku as part of Armenia's ongoing ethnic cleansing policy.
"This is an example of Armenia's war crimes, contradicting its international obligations. The Armenian side doesn’t provide Azerbaijan with maps of minefields. The rights of the peaceful Azerbaijani population are grossly violated. This is also a continuation of the policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Azerbaijani population," added Hajiyev.
Mine blast casualties rising
Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry voiced a similar stance, expressing its serious concern over the issue.
"Today marks the annual International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Actions. On this occasion, Azerbaijan repeats its grave concerns around the serious threat emanating from the massive mine contamination of its recently liberated territories by Armenia and the subsequent refusal of the government of Armenia to share the location of these mines in order to make the region safe," the ministry said.
It stressed that Azerbaijan is faced with major mine contamination of its recently liberated territories, which represents a serious threat to the life, safety, and livelihoods of both military and civilians in the post-conflict period.
The ministry underlined that during almost three decades of occupation of Azerbaijan's internationally recognized territories, Armenia deliberately laid mines in these territories, as a result of which there had been numerous casualties among the Azerbaijani military and civilians.
"Since the signing of the Trilateral Statement by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia on November 10, 2020, which announced an end to all military activities between Armenia and Azerbaijan, 20 citizens of Azerbaijan, including 14 civilians have been killed as a result of mine explosions in the recently liberated territories. 85 citizens, including 16 civilians have been seriously injured, including the brave employees of the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) attempting to protect others," the ministry added.
Blatant violation of international obligations
The statement noted that with a view to inflicting as much damage as possible, as well as creating additional obstacles for civilians returning to their homes, Armenia also deliberately planted mines on a massive scale during its forced withdrawal following the counter-offensive operation of the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan.
"Armenia, in a blatant violation of its international obligations, now refuses to release information on the location of minefields. This is a severe breach of international humanitarian law," the ministry said.
The ministry said that the massive mine contamination of the liberated territories also seriously impedes the realization of the Azerbaijani government's rehabilitation and reconstruction plans.
"Most importantly, it affects the realization of the inalienable right of the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons to return to their homes in safety and dignity. Families forced from their homes for nearly thirty years still cannot safely return until these mines are cleared," the statement added.
High time for international reaction
The ministry stated that "Armenia’s deliberate policy of planting mines at scale during the period of illegal occupation, and during its forced withdrawal from those lands, clearly demonstrates the intention to deny access of the hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis ethnically cleansed by Armenia to their homelands, to hamper the realization of fundamental rights of these people, and inflict as much unnecessary human suffering as possible. Armenia’s conduct continues to impede the realization of the vision of peace, security, and cooperation in the region".
The ministry said that Azerbaijan had repeatedly called for the international community to voice their concern at the human cost of Armenia’s landmines.
"Azerbaijan reiterates its appeal on Mine Awareness Day and calls on the international community not to turn a blind eye to Armenia’s violations of its international obligations, including its deliberate policy of planting mines, impeding the return of internally displaced persons to their homelands, and refusing to release information on the location of landmines. We urge Armenia to uphold its international legal obligations and its moral duty to protect life. Azerbaijan will take all available and necessary legal measures to ensure peace and uphold accountability," the ministry said.
Some experts believe that Armenia has spent $350 million to mine lands in and around Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh region that were liberated from occupation in the 44-day war.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on February 26 described Armenia’s failure to provide the maps of mined areas in liberated lands as the main difficulty for Azerbaijani IPDs to return to their homes. He said that this can also be considered to be a war crime as several servicemen and civilians were killed in mine blasts on liberated territories after the war.
UN-Azerbaijani mine clearance cooperation
Meanwhile, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Charu Bist has described mines as a source of threat.
“Joint cooperation is necessary to eliminate the mine threat,” said Bist in a statement on the occasion of the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.
He said that the UN has been cooperating with Azerbaijan on mine clearance for a long time. Bist expressed hope for the continuation of cooperation on mine clearance between UN structures and other organizations.
“We cooperate with the Mine Action Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan and will continue to provide support to this country in the areas of technical expertise, equipment and so on,” Bist said.
Former Turkish ambassador Erkan Ozoral said that Turkey supports Azerbaijan in de-mining its lands liberated from the Armenian occupation.
“Armenia's refusal to provide Azerbaijan with maps of minefields contradicts international law. Turkey demands the soonest provision of minefield maps to Azerbaijan and at the same time supports it in the issue of mine clearance. Turkish sappers are participating in mine clearance [opertions] in the liberated Azerbaijani lands,” the former ambassador said.
A Moscow-brokered ceasefire deal that Baku and Yerevan signed on November 10 brought an end to six weeks of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani army declared a victory against the Armenian troops. The signed agreement obliged Armenia to withdraw its troops from the Azerbaijani lands that it has occupied since the early 1990s.
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