Azerbaijan bans ICRC medical evacuations from Karabakh, alleges smuggling

The Azerbaijani State Border Guard Service on Tuesday (11 July) announced that they have banned medical evacuations from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, alleging numerous smuggling attempts over the past two weeks from Armenia into Azerbaijan.

The Border Guard Service alleged that Karabakh residents returning home from Armenia repeatedly tried last week to "smuggle" cigarettes, mobile phone screens, gasoline and other items, adding that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) failed to stop such "illegal actions".

It said that the Lachin Corridor would remain closed until an inquiry into the alleged smuggling attempts is concluded.

In a statement released later on Tuesday, the ICRC released their own statement saying, "the ICRC is aware of concerns raised about the transport of unauthorised goods across the Lachin Corridor and does not support any such activity. No unauthorized material has been found in any vehicle belonging to ICRC. All cargo is subject to customs checks by the Republic of Azerbaijan."

"However, we regret that without our knowledge four hired drivers tried to transport some commercial goods in their own vehicles which were temporarily displaying the ICRC emblem," the statement continued. "These individuals were not ICRC staff members and their service contracts were immediately terminated by the ICRC."

"Our work along the Lachin corridor is always strictly humanitarian. This essential work, which has allowed more than 600 patients to be evacuated for medical care and for medical supplies, food, baby formula and other essentials to reach health care facilities and families, must be allowed to continue. This work is always done with the agreement of the sides and makes a difference to the lives of thousands of people."

Baku already blocked the medical evacuations in late April and on 15 June. They most recently resumed on 25 June.

source: with agencies
photo: RFE/RL