Azerbaijan is releasing 32 Armenians, most of whom have been held since 2020, in exchange for two soldiers held since April.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have exchanged prisoners of war on their border, three months after Azerbaijan made a decisive breakthrough in their decades-long conflict, taking a step toward normalizing their relations.

The exchange took place on Wednesday, with Azerbaijan releasing 32 Armenians, mostly captured in late 2020, while Armenia released two Azerbaijani soldiers held since April.

“Thirty-one members of the Armenian armed forces captured between 2020 and 2023 and one soldier captured in Nagorno-Karabakh in September have crossed the Azerbaijan-Armenian border and are on Armenian territory,” the Armenian prime minister wrote Nikol Pashinyan on his Facebook account.

The State Commission for Prisoners of War of Azerbaijan also published a statement on the exchange.

“Armenian soldiers were extradited to Armenia after the International Committee of the Red Cross examined their health and gave a positive result,” it said.

According to the Russian state news agency TASS, the two neighbors are also discussing a troop withdrawal from their border.

The countries said last week in announcing the prisoner swap that they “reaffirm their intention to normalize relations and conclude a peace treaty based on respect for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In November, Yerevan said a total of 55 Armenian prisoners of war were being held in Baku, including six civilians, 41 soldiers and eight separatist leaders captured during the September Baku military operation that recaptured the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The South Caucasus neighbors have fought two wars in the past 30 years over mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh, a part of Azerbaijan from which ethnic Armenians seceded in the 1990s and gained de facto independence.

After Azerbaijan recaptured the territory, most of its 120,000 ethnic Armenians fled to Armenia.

The prisoner exchange deal was welcomed by the European Union and the United States, which have been trying for years to get the two countries to sign a peace treaty.

Western mediation has increased as Russian influence in the region has declined over the past two years since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan were part of the former Soviet Union.

Source : www.aljazeera.com

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