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Fighting Over Nagorno-Karabakh Continues After Armenia, Azerbaijan Hold U.S. Talks

The two sides continue to trade accusations about ongoing fighting that is said to include some shelling of residential areas.

Azerbaijani and Armenian forces have continued to clash in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, a day after the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington to discuss how to resolve the decades-long conflict.

There were conflicting claims from Baku and Yerevan about the fighting.

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said on its website that its forces shot down an Armenian "combat aircraft" during the afternoon of October 24 in the Gubadli sector of the conflict zone.

But the Armenian Defense Ministry's press secretary, Shushan Stepanian, said the claim from Baku was "completely false."

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Ceyhun Bayramov and Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian met separately with Pompeo at the U.S. State Department on October 23.

Pompeo "emphasized the need to end the violence and protect civilians," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement after the talks.

Pompeo also stressed the importance of the sides entering substantive negotiations under the auspices of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Ortagus said. The United States, France, and Russia are the co-chairs of the Minsk Group, set up in the early 1990s to find a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

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Mnatsakanian told reporters as he exited the State Department that his meeting with Pompeo was "very good," adding that work on a new cease-fire deal would continue.

Mnatsakanian rejected the idea of any role for Turkey as a broker or guarantor of security, saying, "Turkey has no role in this."

He said Turkey, which has backed Azerbaijan in the latest fighting, "is exactly part of the problem."

Mnatsakanian also said Armenia would welcome the deployment of peacekeepers in the region.

Azerbaijan's foreign minister said he told Pompeo that the "Armenian occupation" of Nagorno-Karabakh must end.

"We are committed to finding a political solution [to] the conflict and ready to resume substantive talks immediately," Bayramov said in a statement after the talks.

"Armenia must stop avoiding meaningful negotiations and choose lasting peace," he said.

Even as the meeting in Washington took place, heavy fighting continued over Nagorno-Karabakh -- a breakaway region internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but controlled by ethnic Armenians.

The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan have hardened their positions in recent days despite two Russian-brokered cease-fires, which both collapsed soon after being agreed upon.

The two sides continue to trade accusations about ongoing fighting that is said to include some shelling of residential areas.

At least some 1,000 people have been reported killed since fighting erupted on September 27, raising fears of a wider conflict in the South Caucasus drawing in Turkey and Russia, which has a military pact with Armenia.

Armenian forces and the Azerbaijani's military claim to have inflicted devastating losses on each other. But reports from the opposing sides are often contradictory and hard to verify.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Interfax
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