Azerbaijan says detains former Karabakh separatist leader

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Azerbaijan said on Wednesday it had detained a former separatist leader of Nagorno-Karabakh while he was trying to enter Armenia in the wake of Baku's offensive last week.

The state border service said Ruben Vardanyan, a businessman who headed the Armenian separatist government from November 2022 until February, had been handed to officials in Baku after being detained on the road to Armenia.

It also released a photograph of Vardanyan, who was born in 1968, being flanked by two security officers, who were holding him by the arms.

Azerbaijan has agreed to allow separatists who lay down their weapons to leave for Armenia under the terms of a ceasefire deal reached last Wednesday.

But an Azerbaijani government source told AFP that border guards were also looking for "war crime" suspects who had to face prosecution.

It was not immediately clear what charges Vardanyan might potentially face.

Azerbaijan has been negotiating "reintegration" terms with separatist leaders in closed-door talks brokered by Russia.

Vardanyan's wife, Veronika Zonabend, said her husband was "arrested and detained by the Azerbaijani authorities at the border this morning as he tried to leave with thousands of Armenians."

"I ask for your prayers and support for my husband's safe release," she wrote her husband's account on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter.