Armenia standoff: Last four police hostages released

Gunmen released final four police officers held captive, officials say, but remain holed up and heavily armed.

Riot police clash with demonstrators who had gathered in show of support for gunmen holding several hostages in police station in Yerevan
The last four hostages were released on Saturday, a mediator told local media [Reuters]

Armed men, who had once held nine police officers hostage in Armenia’s capital Yerevan, have released all four remaining captives, a mediator between the assailants and the security service has told local media.

The gunmen seized a police stationon July 17 in a bid to have a jailed opposition leader released, killing a police officer and wounding two others. They released two of the hostages on the same day and three more on Monday.

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After negotiations with security forces, the attackers freed two more police officers on Saturday.

The last two hostages, Yerevan’s deputy police chief Valery Osipyan and national deputy police chief Vardan Yeghiazaryan, were also released on Saturday afternoon, mediator Vitaly Balasanyan, a member of parliament, told local TV channel Shant.

The gunmen, however, remained holed up at the police station and heavily armed – their exact number is unclear

The latest hostage release was confirmed by a spokesman for Armenia’s security service, according to Reuters news agency report.

Balasanyan said the release became possible after the authorities agreed to set up a makeshift press centre “in a neutral area” near the seized police station – a demand put forward by the gunmen who had sought access to mass media.

READ MORE: Armenia protesters, police clash over hostage crisis

The hostage-takers’ main demand was the release of Jirair Sefilian, an opposition leader accused by the authorities of plotting civil unrest. Sefilian was jailed in June over allegations of illegally possessing weapons.

A former military commander, Sefilian has accused Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan of mishandling a long-running conflict between Armenian-backed separatists in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and Azeri forces.

A Moscow-brokered ceasefire halted four days of violence in the South Caucasus region in April, the worst flare-up in years, but sporadic shooting persists at night and some deaths have been reported.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s defence ministry said on Saturday that one of their soldiers was wounded as a result of shooting last night. Azeri officials were not available for comments.

Source: News Agencies