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Nagorno-Karabakh: Warring sides trade blame over clashes

October 18, 2020

Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused each other of violating a new "humanitarian cease-fire" in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The resumption of hostilities came just hours after the second truce took effect.

Armenian solider in the city of Jabrayil ahead of the truce
Image: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Armenia and Azerbaijan on Sunday struggled for a second time to halt fierce fighting over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, accusing each other of violating a new cease-fire.

Armenian officials accused the Azeri forces of using artillery and missiles, just hours after a truce went into effect at midnight local time (2000 UTC/GMT Saturday).

"Once again violating the humanitarian cease-fire, the enemy fired artillery shells in the northern direction from 00:04 to 02:45, and fired rockets in the southern direction from 02:20 to 02:45," said Armenia's Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan.

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said Armenian forces had "grossly violated another agreement", accusing them of firing artillery and mortar shells in various directions and of launching early morning attacks along the frontline.

Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said Azeri forces had launched an attack on the enclave's military positions and there were casualties and wounded on both sides.

Previously, the two countries issued a joint statement confirming the truce, saying the "decision was taken following the statement of the presidents of the French Republic, the Russian Federation and the United States of America, representing the co-chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group."

At least 710 people have died in the disputed region since fighting resumed between Azeri and Armenian forces on September 27. It is the bloodiest conflict in the area since a war from 1991-1994.

A Russian-brokered suspension of hostilities was agreed last Saturday to allow the sides to swap detainees and the bodies of those killed. But the truce broke down quickly as both sides continued carrying out attacks while accusing each other of violating the deal

Read moreEU fails to act on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan

On Saturday, Azerbaijani officials said an Armenian missile struck a residential district in Ganja, Azerbaijan's second-largest city, leveling homes and killing 13 civilians with 50 more wounded. 

International mediation 

The European Union, Russia and the US have all called for the fighting to stop and for peace talks to be mediated by France, Russia and the United States.

Representatives from the three countries co-chair the so-called Minsk Group, which was created in 1992 to encourage a negotiated resolution to a then-full blown war that killed at least 30,000 people.

Rescue teams pick through rubble on Saturday in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan
Rescue teams pick through rubble on Saturday in the city of Ganja, AzerbaijanImage: Umit Bektas/Reuters

Read moreEU voices 'extreme concern' over Nagorno-Karabakh breaches

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called both his counterparts in Armenia and Azerbaijan before the announcement Saturday and said both sides need to "strictly follow" last week's cease-fire deal, Russia's Foreign Ministry said. 

French President Emmanuel Macron released a statement shortly after the announcement, calling for the cease-fire to be "unconditional and strictly observed by both parties."

Read moreNagorno-Karabakh's record growth in ruins amid conflict and pandemic

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but it is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians after it was seized during the war in the early 1990s.

Azerbaijan has insisted it has the right to reclaim the region by force, claiming the Minsk Group's efforts have failed to bring progress after three decades. 

mm,dj/rs (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)