Russia appeals to Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire

Smoke rises after a shelling in Stepanakert during ongoing fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh on Oct 9, 2020. (AFP)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Russia made a new appeal to Armenia and Azerbaijan to stop fighting in and around the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh after the warring sides accused each other of fresh ceasefire violations on Wednesday.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the appeal by telephone to the Azeri and Armenian defense ministers, urging the countries to “fully meet the commitments” made under the fraying humanitarian ceasefire brokered by Moscow on Saturday.

Each side denied violating the ceasefire over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but is governed and populated by ethnic Armenians, though Azeri President Ilham Aliyev later said his country’s forces were continuing military operations.

The defense ministry in Nagorno-Karabakh accused Azeri forces of launching artillery and rocket attacks in several areas. Defense officials in the enclave said their forces had shot down an Azeri Su-25 fighter jet but Azerbaijan denied this.

Azerbaijan’s defense ministry accused Armenian forces of new attacks on Azeri army positions along the line of contact that divides the two sides, and that the Terter, Aghdam and Aghjabedi regions inside Azerbaijan were under artillery fire. The Azeri prosecutor’s office reported one new civilian death and several wounded, including Azeri journalists.

The ceasefire is buckling despite mounting calls from world powers to halt the fighting, which has killed more than 500 people since the decades-old conflict flared on Sept. 27. International groups have warned of a humanitarian crisis, with people forced from their homes and a growing COVID-19 pandemic.

The fighting is the worst since a 1991-94 war over Nagorno-Karabakh that killed about 30,000 people. It is being closely watched abroad partly over fears that Russia and Turkey could be sucked in. Russia has a defense pact with Armenia, and Turkey is allied with Azerbaijan.

In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Turkey of muscling its way into the South Caucasus region to further what he called its expansionist ambitions.

Turkey has denied this and says Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh to resolve the conflict.

Nagorno-Karabakh officials said on Tuesday 532 servicemen had been killed since fighting flared on Sept. 27. They did not immediately update the death toll on Wednesday.

The latest death reported by Azerbaijan’s prosecutor general appeared to take the toll to 43 Azeri civilian deaths since Sept. 27. Azerbaijan has not disclosed military casualties.

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