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Nagorno-Karabakh: Azerbaijan, Armenia exchange prisoners as part of peace deal

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In this photo taken from the Russian Defense Ministry, an Armenian captive is escorted off a Russian military plane upon arrival outside Yerevan, Armenia, Dec. 14, 2020
In this photo taken from the Russian Defense Ministry, an Armenian captive is escorted off a Russian military plane upon arrival outside Yerevan, Armenia, Dec. 14, 2020   -   Copyright  AP/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service
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Azerbaijan and Armenia exchanged prisoners on Monday as part of the peace deal that ended a recent war over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Tigran Avinyan, Armenia's deputy prime minister, announced that 44 captives had been returned to the country from Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile, 12 captives were handed over to Azerbaijan, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed.

The exchange was facilitated by Russian peacekeepers that have been deployed to the region under the deal, which was brokered by Moscow.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many more prisoners the two countries intend to exchange.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a bloody war over Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s which ended in a truce although sporadic episodes of violence have since taken place.

The latest flare-up erupted on September 27 with both sides blaming each other for the renewed violence — the worst episode in decades.

More than 5,000 people lost their lives and tens of thousands were displaced.

The peace deal brokered by Moscow came into force on November 10. As part of the agreement, Armenia handed over some territory it holds outside of Nagorno-Karabakh's borders, while Azerbaijan also retained control over areas of the disputed region it had taken during the conflict.

The peace deal was celebrated in Azerbaijan as a major triumph, and last week a military parade was held in Baku to mark it.

In Armenia, the truce sparked outrage and mass protests, with thousands regularly taking to the streets to demand the country’s prime minister be ousted over his handling of the conflict.

Thousands of people rallied in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, once again on Monday, chanting “Nikol, go away!” and “Armenia without Nikol!"