BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union agreed on Monday to dispatch a civilian mission to Armenia to help boost security around its border and improve relations with neighboring Azerbaijan, amid tensions over a transport corridor to the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The mission, which was requested by Armenia and has a mandate for two years, will “conduct routine patrolling” in border areas to “strengthen the EU’s understanding of the situation on the ground,” the bloc said in a statement.
“The EU will continue to support de-escalation efforts and is committed to work closely with both sides towards the ultimate goal of sustainable peace in the region,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell said.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994.
Now, two years after the former Soviet countries ended a war that killed about 6,800 soldiers and displaced around 90,000 civilians, tensions between them are high again over a dispute focused on a six-kilometer (nearly four-mile) road known as the Lachin Corridor.
The winding road is the only land connection between Armenia and the ethnic Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan. It has been blocked by protesters claiming to be environmental activists since mid-December, threatening food supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh’s 120,000 people.
The dispute raises fears that new fighting could break out, and casts doubts over the intentions of Russia, whose peacekeeping troops are charged with keeping the road secure.
The EU has been trying to broker an agreement between them, and helped get their two leaders to the negotiating table last October to advance talks on a border mission backed by the Europeans.