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European MPs concerned over re-opening of Khojaly airport

19 February 2013 19:25 (UTC+04:00)
European MPs concerned over re-opening of Khojaly airport

The re-opening of the Khojaly airport would seriously harm the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, member of the European Parliament from Latvia, Inese Vaidere said in an interview to New Europe website.

"The Armenian initiative to open the Khojaly airport can be seen as a claim of a change in the status of Nagorno-Karabakh that is a clear disagreement with the Madrid Principles," Vaidere said.

Secondly, according to Vaidere, the opening of the air traffic between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia could be seen as a violation of the Azerbaijani airspace and thus, might cause a counter reaction.

"Therefore, the opening of the Khojaly airport should be considered a provocation and obstacle to the conflict's resolution that endangers the mutual confidence building. Instead, both sides should continue to comply with current practice for flights over their territory," Vaidere added.

The MEP noted that the symbolism associated with the Khojaly tragedy in 1992 in addition to the opening of the airport, could potentially lead to further increased tensions in the whole region.

According to Vaidere, any provocative action that has a potential to make the situation more precarious has to be internationally condemned.

Vaidere stressed that the re-opening of the Khojaly airport by Armenian authorities could be perceived as disrespecting both, the EU and the Minsk Group's effort in the whole peace process.

Vaidere also added that the EU's involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution has been a relatively passive so far. "The EU can certainly do more to help resolve conflict in the region, in particular through the Action Plans with each of the countries and also by means of the office of EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus," Vaidere said.

Another way for the EU to get more engaged in the conflict resolution, according to Vaidere, would be to replace France in the OSCE Minsk Group. "It is necessary to reach a breakthrough in the 20 years of standstill in the conflict resolution in order to establish a lasting peace so that thousands of IDPs are able to return to Nagorno Karabakh," Vaidere said.

MEP Boris Zala from Slovakia confirmed that there is a clear concern in Brussels that re-opening of the airport can potentially unfreeze the conflict.

"I still hope it will not come to that. My instinct tells me that the situation will calm down after the Armenian presidential elections. Either way, the issue certainly impedes the conflict resolution process, and complicates the work of the Minsk Group," Zala said.

According to Zala, there is no other way for the airport to operate, but in accordance with international and standard flight practices - in other words, only with the authorisation of the Azerbaijani authorities.

"Any other mode of operation would pose risks for the planes and their passengers - and violate international law," Zala said.

Asked what the actions the European Parliament may undertake are to prevent the opening of Khojaly airport, Zala said that the EP may adopt a resolution if the situation grows more serious, in order to avert escalation of the conflict.

"And let's not forget that the EU is not without political and economic leverage over Armenia - after all, we are entering the final stages of negotiations on a new trade agreement. So, even if not directly involved in conflict mediation, the EU is not powerless. And, for that matter, neither is the European Parliament, which will need to give its consent to closer political and trade association with Armenia," Zala said.

Earlier, Armenian media reported on the intended commissioning of the airport at Khojaly in the near future.

The commissioning of the airport is an open violation of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (adopted on December 7, 1944 in Chicago), the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry reported earlier.

Azerbaijan banned the use of the airspace over Nagorno-Karabakh occupied by Armenia, as no one can guarantee a safe air corridor in the area, the Azerbaijani Civil Aviation Administration said earlier.

According to Azerbaijani Civil Aviation Administration, Armenia's steps towards the operation of the airport are attempts to violate international aviation law. This air space belongs to Azerbaijan, so its use by Armenia is illegal.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the European Civil Aviation Conference (ICAC) also support the position of Azerbaijan on this issue.

The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. Armenian armed forces have occupied 20 per cent of Azerbaijan since 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts.

Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group - Russia, France and the U.S. - are currently holding peace negotiations.

Armenia has not yet implemented the U.N. Security Council's four resolutions on the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions.

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