More than 120 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have signed a letter to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, urging the European Union to increase pressure on Azerbaijan to release the Armenians that remain in captivity. The letter from 3 May – initiated by Andrey Kovatchev MEP, Loucas Fourlas MEP, and François-Xavier Bellamy MEP – argues that those remaining in Azerbaijani detention must be released under the terms of the trilateral ceasefire agreement of 10 November, which stipulates the “exchange of all prisoners of war [POWs] hostages and other detainees as well as the remains of the fatalities”.
The letter notes that beyond POWs, Azerbaijan is suspected of holding civilians captured after the end of the conflict. Acknowledging that the exact number of those in captivity is unclear, the letter notes the “72 people whose captivity Azerbaijan admits, 112 people about whom Azerbaijan did not provide any information, and 61 people whose captivity Azerbaijan categorically denies, but about whom there is concrete evidence to the contrary”. It argues that the continued detention of these individuals is both against international law as well as “in contradiction with [Azerbaijan’s] claims to move to normalisation and reconciliation”. It asserts that the release of the prisoners must be unconditional and not linked to any other requests.
Azerbaijan contends that the 10 November ceasefire agreement does not apply to those that remain in detention as they were captured after the agreement, and are terrorists, not POWs. Baku accuses those in custody of criminal activity, including operations which resulted in the death or injury of Azerbaijani citizens and military personnel. The letter by the MEPs says that “no single proof has ever been provided on this point”. An official statement published last week by the EU called on the sides to release all detainees, “regardless of the circumstances of their arrest”, and also urged co-operation on other important issues such as demining.
Last night, three Armenian servicemen were returned to Yerevan. Sources in Azerbaijan say that it had been ascertained that these men had not participated in any criminal activity, which is why they were released.