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Pope embarks on peace mission to Caucusus

Pope Francis waves as he boards a plane to Georgia on September 30, 2016 at Fiumicino Rome's international airport. The pontiff will travel in Gerogia and Azerbaijan, two countries facing internal conflicts for a three-day visit. / AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO

Pope Francis waves as he boards a plane to Georgia on September 30, 2016 at Fiumicino Rome’s international airport. The pontiff will travel in Gerogia and Azerbaijan, two countries facing internal conflicts for a three-day visit. / AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO

Pope Francis set off Friday for Georgia and Azerbaijan on what Vatican officials billed as a mission to promote peace in a troubled part of the world, three months after he visited Armenia.

“The holy father will be bringing a message of peace and reconciliation for the whole Caucusus region,” his spokesman Greg Burke told reporters. The official theme of the trip is “Pax vobis” (peace for you).

After taking off from Rome just after 0700 GMT, Francis was due to touch down four hours later in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, a country with one of the oldest Christian traditions in the world.

He will be greeted there by President Giorgi Margvelashvili and the current leader of the Georgian Orthodox church, Patriarch Ilia II.

Francis is due Sunday in Azerbaijan, where he will meet with, among others, President Ilham Aliyev, just days after the authoritarian leader won a referendum on constitutional changes seen as consolidating his grip on power.

While in the oil and gas-rich country, Francis is expected to reiterate the call he made in Armenia for a peaceful resolution of the conflict over the disputed region of Nagorny-Karabach.

Officially part of Azerbaijan, the territory has been under the control of ethnic Armenian separatists since 1994, when a war between the two countries ended in a ceasefire but no formal peace accord.

Since then, there have been sporadic outbursts of violence, including one in April that left 110 people dead.

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