February 28, 2008 / 12:37 PM / 12 years ago

Azerbaijan to pull troops from Kosovo: official

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev meet at the presidential residence Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow, February 21, 2008. Aliyev has asked parliament to vote to withdraw the ex-Soviet country's peacekeepers from Kosovo, an Azeri official said on Thursday. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

BAKU (Reuters) - Azeri President Ilham Aliyev has asked parliament to vote to withdraw the ex-Soviet country’s peacekeepers from Kosovo, an Azeri official said on Thursday.

Aliyev submitted the initiative to a parliamentary committee this week, and the vote is expected on March 4. The proposal is expected to pass into law with little opposition.

Azerbaijan has had 33 soldiers serving in Kosovo since 1999 with a Turkish battalion under NATO command.

Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov said Kosovo’s recent declaration of independence from Serbia had “sharply changed the political scene”.

“Azerbaijan, as well as a host of other NATO partner-countries, is now re-examining the position of its peacekeeping platoon,” Azimov told reporters.

Azerbaijan is locked in a once-bloody dispute with neighbor Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The countries are technically still at war and Baku fears Kosovo’s independence will embolden regional separatists further.

Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh threw off Azerbaijan’s rule in a 1990s war that killed about 35,000 people and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing.

Azerbaijan has vowed to restore its control. The region is host to a pipeline pumping Caspian Sea oil to world markets.

Azimov said his country was not changing its relationship with NATO, where it cooperates in educational exchanges and joint troop training, and Baku had recently doubled its commitment to the alliance’s presence in Afghanistan.

Reporting by Lada Yevgrashina, writing by Chris Baldwin, editing by Elizabeth Piper

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