France hosts Karabakh talks

French President Francois Hollande hosts leaders from Armenia and Azerbaijan Monday in a fresh push to end the festering conflict over Nagorny Karabakh.

Although few expect a breakthrough after more than two decades of bloodshed, it is “important to bring the two presidents together, to call on them to work together, to get back to the table to reduce tensions,” a French diplomatic source said ahead of the summit.

“It would be extremely surprising to have concrete progress. But there is a will from President Hollande to make progress with both parties, to have a dialogue,” the diplomat told AFP. 

Hollande will hold separate meetings with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia’s Serzh Sargsyan.

During his talks with Azerbaijan’s strongman Hollande will also have to deal with Baku’s poor human rights record.

Rights groups say there are dozens of political prisoners in the tightly-controlled Caspian Sea country and the government has clamped down on opponents since Aliyev’s re-election to a third term last year.

Prominent rights activist Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif have been held and accused of spying for Armenia — charges denounced by the couple and Human Rights Watch as “bogus”.

The ailing 57-year-old activist’s three-month pre-trial detention was extended by four months on Friday, despite protests from France and the United States.

The couple’s daughter, Dinara Yunusova, has urged Hollande to ask Aliyev to free her parents.

“I would like to ask President Hollande to ask President Aliyev to free my parents and all other pro-democracy activists still in prison in Azerbaijan,” she told AFP.

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