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Armenian, Azerbaijani leaders discuss disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave

The presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia met on their border Wednesday to
discuss the dispute Nagorno-Karabakh region, resuming on-again, off-again
negotiations over a dispute that has fueled instability in the Caucasus
Mountains region for 15 years.

Fighting broke out in the mainly Armenian-inhabited enclave surrounded by
Azerbaijan in early 1988, sparking the first of many ethnic conflicts that
accompanied the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse. About 30,000 people were killed
and a million forced to flee the region before a shaky cease-fire was concluded
in 1994.

In the decade since becoming independent, Armenia has sunk into poverty. For
Azerbaijan, the flood of refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh and threat of renewed
war has hampered development of the rich Caspian Sea oil fields by draining
resources.

Despite efforts by U.S., Russian and European mediators, the sides have not
reached a political settlement of the conflict. Nagorno-Karabakh soldiers and
Azerbaijani troops still face off over a no man’s land around the enclave,
occasionally exchanging fire. Both Azerbaijani President Geidar Aliev and
Armenian President Robert Kocharian are under heavy pressure at home to maintain
a hard line.

The two leaders held talks Wednesday in a small, temporary building erected
near a military checkpoint in the Nakhichevan autonomous region, an Azerbaijani
enclave sandwiched between Armenia, Iran and Turkey. It was their first meeting
since a November 2001 summit in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

They were joined at times by their foreign and defense ministers.

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