Azerbaijan releases 32 Armenians, most of whom were held since 2020, in exchange for two soldiers held since April.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have traded prisoners of war at their border in a step towards normalising their relations three months after Azerbaijan achieved a decisive breakthrough in their decades-old conflict.
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 personnel from Armenia’s armed forces captured in 2020-2023 and one serviceman captured in Nagorno-Karabakh in September have crossed the Azerbaijani-Armenian border and are on Armenian territory,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote on his Facebook account.
Azerbaijan’s state commission for prisoners of war also released a statement about the swap.
“Armenian soldiers were handed to Armenia after the International Committee of the Red Cross examined their health and made a positive conclusion,” it said.
The two neighbours are also discussing the withdrawal of troops from their border, according to the Russian state news agency TASS.
The countries said last week as they announced the prisoner exchange that they “reconfirm their intention to normalise relations and to reach a peace treaty on the basis of respect for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
In November, Yerevan said a total of 55 Armenian prisoners of war were being held by Baku, including six civilians, 41 soldiers and eight separatist leaders who were arrested in the wake of Baku’s military operation in September, which recaptured the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The South Caucasus neighbours have fought two wars in the past 30 years over mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh, which is a part of Azerbaijan where ethnic Armenians broke away and established de facto independence in the 1990s.
After Azerbaijan recaptured the territory, most of its 120,000 ethnic Armenians fled to Armenia.
The prisoner exchange agreement was welcomed by the European Union and the United States, who have been trying to persuade the two countries to sign a peace treaty for years.
Western mediation has stepped up after Russian influence in the region has dipped in the past two years since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan were part of the former Soviet Union.
This story originally Appeared on Aljazeera