Swiss may mediate in Hungary-Armenia row

Switzerland is prepared to assist Hungary and Armenia, whose relations have soured over the killer of an Armenian soldier in Budapest, the Swiss foreign ministry said on Wednesday without specifically referring to the murder case.

Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter had offered support when he met his Hungarian counterpart Janos Martonyi in Bern on Monday, ministry spokesman Jean-Marc Crevoisier told AFP.

"Switzerland maintains friendly relations with Hungary and Armenia and … is prepared to provide assistance if wanted. This is in line with our foreign
policy," he wrote in an email.

Crevoisier did not however mention the tensions between Budapest and Yerevan over the case of Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani officer who axed an Armenian soldier to death in Budapest in 2004.

He had been serving a life sentence in Hungary for the killing, but after Budapest extradited him to Baku last week he immediately received a pardon from Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev.

On Wednesday, the Hungarian foreign minister hinted that Switzerland had agreed to help calm his country's tensions with Armenia over the Safarov case.

"During my visit to Bern on Monday, Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter offered his assistance to smoothe Hungarian-Armenian relations," Martonyi told Hungarian public radio MR1.

"All means must be used to fix the situation and improve relations between Hungary and Armenia," he added, pointing out that Switzerland was
traditionally a neutral country with broad mediation experience.

Hungary says it was assured by Azerbaijan that Safarov would serve out his sentence in his home country, and the pardon, coupled with promotion to the rank of major, the award of a house and eight years' back-pay, enraged Armenia and brought criticism from Europe, the United States and Russia.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are locked in a long-running conflict over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh, where they fought a war in the 1990s.

Armenia meanwhile appeared to reject the offer from Switzerland to assist in relations with Hungary.

"I do not think that mediation is needed. What are needed here are precise steps from the Hungarian authorities," Armenian foreign ministry spokesman Tigran Balaian told AFP.

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