Nagorno-Karabakh cease-fire strained by fierce new clashes

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A man walks on a deserted street in the city of Stepanakert in Azerbaijan. (AFP)

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The cease-fire, agreed to on Saturday, has had little impact on fighting that began on Sept. 27

YEREVAN/BAKU: A cease-fire in the mountain territory of Nagorno-Karabakh was under severe strain on Tuesday after fierce new clashes between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces fighting their deadliest battles since the 1990s.

The cease-fire, agreed to on Saturday, has had little impact on fighting that began on Sept. 27, despite concerns it could spark a wider conflict involving Russia and Turkey.

In an interview, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian accused Turkey of destabilising the South Caucasus with its strong backing for Azerbaijan. But he said he did not advocate military intervention by Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia.

“What I’m preaching is not involving Russia and then tomorrow Iran and a third party, and making Armenia and Azerbaijan and the Caucasus another Syria,” he told France-24 television.

“What I’m saying here is that instead of talking about involving Russia, we have to talk about excluding Turkey, which has a completely destructive role here.”

Ankara denies accusations by Armenia, France and Russia that it sent mercenaries from the conflicts in Syria and Libya to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh, which broke away from Azerbaijan as the Soviet Union collapsed.

In comments to Azerbaijan’s parliament, Turkish Parliament Speaker Mustafa Sentop portrayed Armenia as the aggressor and criticized mediation led for years by France, the United States and Russia under the auspices of the OSCE security watchdog.

“If they are sincere on their path to peace, those who have held Armenia’s leash and supported it for years need to end this dangerous game now and stop supporting Armenia. Azerbaijan does not have another 30 years to wait,” Sentop said.

The OSCE’s Nagorno-Karabakh mediating panel, known as the Minsk Group, “is brain dead,” he said.

Several hundred people have been killed since Sept. 27 in fighting involving drones, warplanes, heavy artillery, tanks and missiles, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis and concerns about the security of oil and gas pipelines in Azerbaijan.

The new cease-fire appears to have had no more effect on fighting than an earlier deal brokered by Russia that failed.

Azerbaijan wants an end to what it calls Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia rules this out and accuses Azerbaijan of making a land grab.

Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh reported new artillery battles on Tuesday and said fighting was intense in southern areas of the conflict zone.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry also reported fighting in several areas, including disputed territory close to the line of contact dividing the sides. It said Armenian forces were shelling the Azeri regions of Terter and Aghdam.

Azerbaijan said its foreign minister, Jeyhun Bayramov, would hold talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Minsk Group in Washington on Friday, but gave no details.

Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations said the Security Council had discussed the conflict on Monday. Asked about the possibility of UN observers going to the region, he said that would require a mandate from the Security Council.

“This is not a quick process,” the envoy, Vasily Nebenzya, was quoted as saying by TASS. He suggested any observer mission might involve the OSCE.

 

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