Azerbaijan extends Armenian pullout deadline from disputed area

BAKU: Azerbaijan said on Sunday it had agreed to extend a deadline for Armenia to withdraw from a disputed district as part of a peace accord that ended six weeks of fierce fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The first of the territories, Kalbajar, was to be turned over on Sunday. But Azerbaijan agreed at the last minute to give Armenian forces and civilians until November 25 to withdraw.

Kalbajar is home to the well-known Dadivank monastery of the Armenian Apostolic Church. On Saturday, a day before the territory’s expected handover, workers removed many of the monastery’s sacred objects.

Azerbaijani presidential spokesman Hikmet Hajiyev said on Sunday that the delay was requested by Armenia and granted “taking into account the worsening weather conditions and the difficult mountainous terrain".

“Kalbajar's settlement by Armenians was illegal. The people who were resettled there have no property rights,” Hajieyv told a news conference.

Kalbajar was almost exclusively populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis before they were expelled by Armenians in the 1990s war between the two countries over Nagorno-Karabakh, and a majority of the homes being abandoned previously belonged to Azerbaijanis.

Residents of the Kalbajar district in Azerbaijan that was controlled by Armenian separatists for decades began a mass exodus of the mountainous province in the days leading up to the official withdrawal day.

Civilians fleeing the region caused huge traffic jams on the single road leading to Armenia. AFP journalists saw fleeing residents pile furniture and kitchenware into vehicles before leaving for Armenia and some among the departing ethnic-Armenians said they had exhumed graves they feared would be desecrated by Azerbaijanis.

Thick plumes of smoke were rising over the valley near the village of Charektar after residents set their homes on fire preferring to leave devastation in their wake and homes that would be uninhabitable by Azerbaijanis. - Agencies