Armenia, Azerbaijan clash over Karabakh as Russia urges halt
Russia on Monday urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to immediately start observing a ceasefire over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region as intense fighting between the two rivals in the Caucasus cast new doubts on the deal.
Over the past two weeks, Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought bitterly over Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region of Azerbaijan that was controlled by Armenians after a war in the 1990s and whose independence is not recognized by any other state.
The fighting, the worst since a 1994 ceasefire, has sparked fears of regional conflict with Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan, Armenia, which seeks to win over former Soviet ally Russia, and Iran, which is watching carefully.
After eleven hours of talks between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Moscow, both sides agreed on a humanitarian ceasefire early on Saturday.
But repeated clashes have so far mocked the ceasefire agreement, with both sides accusing the other of repeated violations on Monday.
"We expect the decisions made to be strictly adhered to by both parties," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow after receiving his Armenian counterpart Zohrab Mnatsakanyan.
He said the ceasefire - the immediate aim of which is to exchange prisoners and the bodies of those killed - needs to be implemented locally and work is being done to ensure that review mechanisms are in place.
Lavrov said he believed the "night watch" that started the ceasefire "was not in vain" and that the problem could be resolved on the ground "in the near future".
- Mutual allegations -
An AFP correspondent in the Azerbaijani city of Barda, not far from the front, heard a roaring sound of fire on Monday morning, and the noise intensified in the afternoon.
In Karabakh's capital, Stepanakert, an AFP photographer heard the gunfire from the direction of Hadrut.
"The Armenian armed forces, which did not respect the humanitarian ceasefire, repeatedly tried to attack the positions of the Azerbaijani army," said the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry.
It said a "large number of enemy forces" as well as a T-72 tank and three degree multiple rocket launchers had been destroyed.
The spokeswoman for the Armenian Defense Ministry, Shushan Stepanyan, said Azerbaijan had "now shelled the southern front intensively".
Armenia said the Karabakh forces shot down an Azerbaijani fighter jet, but the claim was dismissed as "nonsense" by the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry.
The 1990s war that ended with the 1994 ceasefire, which was not a long-term solution to the conflict, resulted in the deaths of around 30,000 people.
Nearly 500 people, including more than 60 civilians, have been killed in the recent fighting since last month. This is evident from a toll levied on both sides.
Analysts have long warned that Nagorno-Karabakh was the most flammable of the conflicts left after the fall of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan promised to regain control of the territory and the Armenians insisted that they would never cede land.
EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said Sunday he was concerned about "reports of continued military activity, including against civilian targets, as well as civilian casualties" in violation of the ceasefire.
- Turkish support? - -
The previously unsuccessful, decades-long search for a settlement over Karabakh was overseen by the Minsk Group of World and Regional Powers, chaired by high-ranking diplomats from France, Russia and the United States.
Mnatsakanyan was supposed to meet the co-chairs of the Minsk Group in Moscow after his talks with Lavrov.
Renewed fighting has raised fears of a full-blown war in Turkey, which Azerbaijan has strongly supported and accused by Paris and Moscow of sending Syrian militiamen to Ankara to aid Baku.
Lavrov said on Monday that his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu had spoken over the phone to express his support for the Moscow ceasefire agreement.
Russia has a military base in Armenia and counts Yerevan as an ally in the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
However, the Kremlin has stayed away from encouraging Armenians to get involved, stating that the CSTO treaty does not extend to Karabakh.
Iran, which has close ties with Armenia and distrusts Baku's military cooperation with Israel, has also expressed concern over reports of Syrian militias being deployed to Azerbaijan.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry regretted "the violation of the announced ceasefire" and urged both sides to resume talks.
bur-sjw / as / bp
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