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ICRC President calls for humanitarian mobilization in Southern Caucasus

13-04-1995 News Release 95/10

Geneva (ICRC) - The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mr Cornelio Sommaruga, visited the southern Caucasus for the first time from 3 to 11 April 1995. He went to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, where he had in-depth talks with government authorities at the highest level. The visit was part of the ICRC's drive to mobilize all the States party to the Geneva Conventions to tackle humanitarian issues, focusing on States affected by conflict or unrest. This campaign is at the centre of the ICRC's concerns.

Humanitarian questions relating to the Nagorny Karabakh conflict were raised with President Levon Ter-Petrossian in Armenia and President Geidar Aliyev in Azerbaijan, and with senior officials of the ministries concerned. During the discussions the ICRC's activities in the region were reviewed. The talks also gave the ICRC President the opportunity to remind the highest State authorities in Armenia and Azerbaijan, and also a leading Nagorny Karabakh official whom he met in Yerevan, of the importance that the ICRC attaches to the release of all detainees and their return to their homes. Now, almost a year since a generally respected cease-fire brought an end to active hostilities, it is a matter of urgency to release the women, children, elderly people, the sick and the wounded still being held. On 11 February last, negotiators representing Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorny Karabakh undertook to do so; this commitment has been met by Armenia and partly by Azerbaijan. The ICRC earnestly hopes that the Nagorny Karabakh authorities will follow suit and that the Azerbaijani government will decide to free the remaining detainees falling within the agreed categories.

Mr Sommaruga also had talks with Eduard Shevardnadze, President of the Republic of Georgia, on the humanitarian implications of the Abkhaz conflict. Their exchanges of views covered not only the ICRC's activities and concerns in this context, with particular reference to the protection of detainees, but also the issue of anti-personnel mines. These are claiming victims in Abkhazia, especially in the Gali area, as well as in regions affected by the Nagorny Karabakh conflict. While in Tbilisi the ICRC President opened the ICRC orthopaedic workshop, which has a counterpart in Gagra, Abkhazia. Civilians and others injured by mine explosions are fitted with artificial limbs at these centres. 

President Sommaruga expressed his concern about the new upsurge of violence in Abkhazia, around Gali, and stressed the importance of the ICRC's humanitarian work in behalf of non-Abkhaz civilians living in the region.

In all the countries he visited the ICRC President emphasized how crucial it was for States to spread knowledge of the basic principles of international humanitarian law, which, he underlined, their armed forces must observe in the event of fighting.

During his visit Mr Sommaruga had constructive discussions with the region's Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations. In Armenia, near the border with Azerbaijan, he observed the distribution of relief supplies to vulnerable people. This operation, conducted under the auspices of the ICRC, is part of an American Red Cross programme to provide assistance, in cooperation with the Armenian Red Cross, to 7,000 families living along a border subject to sporadic cease-fire violations. In Azerbaijan, the ICRC President went to the Barda and Fizuli districts to assess the situation of displaced persons along the front line between Azerbaijan and Nagorny Karabakh, and to observe the activities carried out in the area by the ICRC sub-delegation in Barda, partly wit h the assistance of the Azerbaijan Red Crescent.

President Sommaruga's visit to the southern Caucasus gave rise to several favourable developments. The three heads of State declared their intention, at this time of political and economic difficulty for their respective countries, to meet their commitments with regard to international humanitarian law and to facilitate the ICRC's humanitarian work in the region.