Azerbaijan says army has entered Kalbajar district handed over by Armenia

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BAKU: Azerbaijan said Wednesday its forces had entered the Kalbajar district, the second of three to be handed back by Armenia as part of a deal that ended weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The defence ministry in Baku said in a statement that “units of the Azerbaijani army entered the Kalbajar region on November 25” under the deal signed earlier this month by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia.

Wedged between the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region and the territory of Armenia, the Kalbajar district was initially scheduled for handover on November 15, but the deadline was postponed by Azerbaijan for humanitarian reasons.

“Engineering work has been completed to ensure the movement of our units in this direction, the difficult mountain roads along the route of the troops’ movement are being cleared of mines and prepared for use,” the ministry statement said.

Armenia agreed to hand over three districts around Karabakh — Aghdam, Kalbajar and Lachin — as part of the deal that stopped an Azerbaijani offensive that had reclaimed swathes of territory lost to Armenian separatists in a 1990s war.

Aghdam was ceded on November 20 and Lachin is to be handed over by December 1.

Clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh between the ex-Soviet rivals broke out in late September, reigniting the long-simmering conflict over the mountainous region.

The peace deal was reached after six weeks of heavy fighting that saw Azerbaijan’s military overwhelm Armenian separatist forces and threatening to advance on Karabakh’s main city Stepanakert.

Under the agreement Armenia is losing control of seven regions seized during the post-Soviet war in the 1990s, which killed 30,000 people and displaced many Azerbaijanis that used to live in Karabakh.

The separatists are retaining control over most of Karabakh’s Soviet-era territory and some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers have deployed along frontline areas and to protect the strategic Lachin corridor that connects Karabakh with Armenia.

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