Nagorno-Karabakh truce frays as both sides allege attacks
By Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
BAKU / YEREVAN (Reuters) - Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other of serious violations and crimes against civilians, and Azerbaijan also said it had launched air strikes as a one-day humanitarian ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh looked increasingly frayed on Sunday.
The Russian-brokered ceasefire, which was concluded after the marathon talks in Moscow, was intended to halt the fighting so that ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijani forces can exchange prisoners and war dead.
The talks marked the first diplomatic contact between the two since the battle for the mountainous enclave began on September 27, in which hundreds of people were killed. Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but is populated and ruled by ethnic Armenians.
Both sides accused each other of breaking the ceasefire almost immediately, and Azerbaijan made the impression in public comments from top officials that it was only a brief respite anyway.
Azerbaijan, which made its first claim to attack since the ceasefire, said Sunday it carried out air strikes against an ethnic Armenian regiment and caused heavy casualties. Reuters was unable to independently verify this claim.
A spokesman for the Nagorno-Karabakh leader told Reuters that he had no information about the alleged attack.
On the previous Sunday, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of severely shooting at a residential area in Ganja, its second largest city, and hit a residential building in the early morning hours.
The Azerbaijani attorney general said nine people were killed and 34 injured in the attack. Reuters has been unable to independently verify Azerbaijani claims about the number of deaths or injuries.
A Reuters photographer in Ganja saw rescue workers carrying a dead person from the ruins of the apartment building on Sunday morning. The structure was almost leveled. An excavator cleared the rubble.
Buildings and cars in the immediate vicinity were also badly damaged.
Baku says more than 40 civilians have been killed and 200 injured since the conflict began.
The Armenian Defense Ministry described the Azerbaijani allegations about the attack on Ganja as an "absolute lie" and accused Azerbaijan of continuing to bombard populated areas in Karabakh, including Stepanakert, the region's largest city.
Reuters footage from Stepanakert showed a small brick house that had been damaged by fire, its windows broken and its roof collapsed. Karabakh authorities said at least five civilians have been killed since the ceasefire was due to go into effect on Saturday and 429 soldiers have been killed since fighting broke out last month.
Azerbaijan accused Armenia of also launching an unsuccessful missile attack on an Azerbaijani hydropower plant in Mingachevir. Ethnic Armenian forces in Karabakh denied the claim.
Arayik Haratyunyan, the leader of the Armenian Armed Forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, described the overall situation as relatively calm early Sunday but said he did not know how long it would take and that the front was tense.
He accused the Azerbaijani armed forces of unsuccessfully attempting to take control of the city of Hadrut, saying the prisoner exchange process should have started on Sunday, but it was unclear if and when it would happen.
The renewed fighting in the decades-long conflict has raised fears of a major war in Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, and in Russia, which has signed a defense pact with Armenia.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu asked his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a phone call on Sunday to urge Armenia to comply with the terms of the ceasefire, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
The Armenian Foreign Minister should be expected in Moscow on Monday for talks with representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Minsk Group in Europe (OSCE) led by France, Russia and the United States.
The fighting is the worst since a 1991-1994 war that killed around 30,000 people and ended in a ceasefire that was repeatedly injured.
(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; writing by Andrew Osborn; editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)
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