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Warring Sides In Conflict Over Nagorno-Karabakh Accuse Each Other Of Violating Latest Cease-Fire


A fragment of an artillery shell illustrates the fighting between ethnic Armenian soldiers and Azerbaijani armed forces as a humanitarian cease-fire takes effect.

BAKU/YEREVAN -- Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of violating a new humanitarian cease-fire to halt fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh shortly after it took effect on October 26.

The Armenian Defense Ministry said the cease-fire was violated twice by shelling from Azerbaijani forces.

"The regular ceasefire violation has been recorded at approximately 9.10 a.m.," Shushan Stepanian, press secretary of the Armenian Defense Ministry, said on Twitter. "Azerbaijani side targeted positions located in south-eastern direction, firing 5 artillery shells in that direction."

An earlier violation occurred at 8:45 a.m. when combat positions northeast of Artsakh were shelled, she said on Facebook.

However, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Facebook that "despite several provocations, the cease-fire is generally being maintained."

He added that the Armenian side "will continue to strictly adhere to the cease-fire regime."

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said its forces also complied with the cease-fire and said Armenian forces had “once again grossly violated” the cease-fire.

Ethnic tensions in the region between Christian Armenians and their mainly Muslim neighbors have flared in Nagorno-Karabakh for decades.

Under international law, Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians, who make up the vast majority of the population, reject Azerbaijani rule. They have been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan's troops were pushed out of the breakaway region in a war in the 1990s.

The renewed fighting that broke out on September 27 has quickly became the deadliest since the 1990s.

President Ilham Aliyev said in an address to the nation on October 26 that Azerbaijan wanted to resolve the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, either by political or military means.

He also reiterated a demand that ethnic Armenian forces should leave the region in order for the conflict to stop.

"This issue needs to be resolved, either militarily or peacefully. I again suggested that we continue to resolve the conflict peacefully, but only if Armenia gave us a schedule of the withdrawal of illegal weapons on the occupied territories," Aliyev said.

The cease-fire was announced in a joint statement from the U.S. State Department and the two governments on October 25 said the two sides had committed to the cease-fire – the third attempt to establish a pause in hostilities after four weeks of fighting.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington two days earlier in a new push for peace.

Earlier on October 25, President Donald Trump was encouraged by the two sides' commitment to the cease-fire.

“Congratulations to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who just agreed to adhere to a cease fire effective at midnight. Many lives will be saved,” Trump said, praising Pompeo and his team for “getting the deal done!”

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The United States, France, and Russia -- co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- said its foreign ministers would meet on October 29 in Geneva to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

The Minsk Group, formed to mediate the conflict, said its co-chairs said the meeting would be held "to discuss, reach agreement on, and begin implementation, in accordance with a timeline to be agreed upon, of all steps necessary to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict."

"During their intensive discussions, the co-chairs and foreign ministers discussed implementing an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, possible parameters for monitoring the cease-fire, and initiating discussion of core substantive elements of a comprehensive solution," a statement from the Minsk Group said.

But new fighting erupted on October 25 between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces as both sides blamed each other for blocking a peaceful settlement to the conflict.

Armenia accused the Azerbaijani military of shelling civilian settlements. Azerbaijan denied targeting civilians and said it was ready to implement a cease-fire, provided that Armenian forces withdrew from the battlefield.

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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.

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 NATO member Turkey, which is an ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a military pact with Armenia.

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

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on October 22 that Moscow believes nearly 5,000 people have been killed in the latest fighting.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa