SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a ceasefire starting on Saturday to exchange prisoners and bodies of those killed in the conflict between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The talks were the first diplomatic contact between the two countries since fighting over the breakaway enclave erupted on Sept. 27, killing hundreds of people, according to Reuters.
Lavrov said the warring sides had agreed to a ceasefire from “12 hours 00 minutes on October 10 on humanitarian grounds,” AFP reported.
Lavrov, who mediated the negotiations in Moscow, announced the ceasefire at 3 a.m. (midnight GMT) after 10 hours of talks with his Armenian and Azeri counterparts. He also said Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to start talks on the settlement of the conflict.
Russia’s top diplomat also said that Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to start negotiating a peaceful solution to the territorial dispute.
“Azerbaijan and Armenia begin substantive negotiations with the purpose of achieving a peaceful settlement as soon as possible,” Lavrov told reporters, adding that such talks would be mediated by France, Russia and the US.
He further said International Red Cross Committee would act as an intermediary in the humanitarian operation.
He did not provide details on the talks but said the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group would mediate.
“Concrete parameters of the ceasefire will be agreed separately,” Lavrov said, reading from a statement.
The mountain enclave belongs to Azerbaijan under international law but broke away in a war as the Soviet Union collapsed and is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.
The renewed fighting in the decades-old conflict has raised fears of a wider war drawing in Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia.
The clashes have also increased concern about the security of pipelines that carry Azeri oil and gas to Europe.
The fighting is the worst since a 1991-94 war that killed about 30,000 people and ended with a ceasefire that has been violated repeatedly.
Azerbaijan said on Friday that 31 Azeri civilians had been killed and 168 wounded since Sept. 27. It has not disclosed information about military casualties.
Nagorno-Karabakh said 376 of its military personnel and 22 civilians had been killed since the beginning of the conflict.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who has repeatedly vowed to use his military to retake the breakaway province, said earlier that the talks represented a historic opportunity for Armenia.
“We are giving Armenia a chance to settle the conflict peacefully,” he said. “This is their last chance.”
Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said his country was “ready for the resumption of the peace process” led by international brokers.