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PARIS: France announced Monday the sale of defensive equipment to Armenia as Azerbaijan launched military drills with its ally Turkey.

The deal was announced weeks after Baku seized Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian separatists and amid fears in Yerevan that Azerbaijan might now seek to target southern Armenia.

Speaking to reporters, French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said Armenia would buy three Ground Master 200 (GM200) radar systems from the French defence group Thales, without providing financial details.

The system, already used in Ukraine, is known for its “remarkable detection capabilities”, Lecornu said at a press conference alongside Armenian Defence Minister Suren Papikyan.

The ministers also signed a letter of intent for Armenia’s purchase of air defence systems involving Thales and European missile maker MBDA, a spokeswoman for Lecornu told AFP.

Lecornu said the letter of intent involved the purchase of “Mistral-type” equipment, referring to a short-range air defence missile system.

“Detection only makes sense if it is accompanied by intervention and interception modules for attacks coming from the sky,” Lecornu said.

“It is the Armenian ministry which is purchasing these weapons and which will be subject to export licences,” he added. He insisted that the weapons were defensive in nature.

“It is a weapon system which, by its very nature, can only be implemented when there is an aggression on Armenian territory and often with civilian populations underneath,” Lecornu said.

Armenia also signed a contract to buy night-vision goggles from the French group Safran, the defence ministry spokeswoman said.

In a statement, the Armenian defence ministry said that the ministers discussed defence and that the two countries later signed documents relating to “bilateral cooperation”.

In early October, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said on a visit to Armenia that Paris had agreed to deliver military equipment to the small South Caucasus nation.

After that announcement, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev refused to meet with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for talks in Spain.

Azerbaijan slammed what it called France’s policy of “militarisation” in the South Caucasus.

France, which has a large Armenian diaspora, has helped mediate a decades-old territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Earlier Monday, Azerbaijan said it had begun joint military drills with its ally Turkey near the border with Armenia.

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