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Azerbaijan reclaims disputed land in Karabakh peace deal

AGHDAM: Armenia was due to hand over disputed territory to Azerbaijan on Friday as part of a contentious Russian-brokered peace accord that ended weeks of brutal fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The Armenian residents of Azerbaijan’s Aghdam district hurriedly picked pomegranates and persimmons from trees surrounding their homes and packed vans with furniture, AFP journalists said, before fleeing before the official deadline to cede the mountainous province.

“We wanted to build a sauna, kitchen. But now I had to dismantle everything. And I ll burn down the house with everything I own when I leave,” Gagik Grigoryan, a 40-year-old electrical worker, told AFP before abandoning his home.

Columns of tanks and troop transporters filled with waving Armenian fighters rolled out of the territory through dense fog ahead of Friday’s deadline to vacate the region.

Fierce clashes between Azerbaijan s forces and Armenian separatists broke out in late September in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The brutal war lasted six weeks, leaving thousands dead and displacing many more.

The longstanding ex-Soviet rivals finally agreed to end hostilities last week under the framework of a Russian-brokered accord that sees Moscow deploy peacekeepers to the region and requires Armenia to cede swathes of territory.

Separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh and several surrounding districts captured the territory and claimed independence that has not been recognised internationally, even by Armenia, following a post-Soviet 1990s war that left some 30,000 dead.

As part of last week s peace deal, Armenia agreed to return some 15 to 20 percent of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory captured by Azerbaijan in recent fighting, including the historical town of Shusha.

The exchange of territory was originally due to begin Sunday, with Armenians in the Kalbajar district fleeing en masse before the official deadline for Azerbaijan’s takeover.

But Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev postponed the deadline by one week over “humanitarian” considerations.

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