Nagorno-Karabakh truce frays amid reports of new shelling

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People grieve at the graveside of their relative and friend killed during a military conflict, at a cemetery in Stepanakert, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. Armenia and Azerbaijan are trading accusations of violating the new cease-fire in their conflict over the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh territory despite a true announced Saturday that was supposed to take effect at midnight. It is a second attempt to establish a cease-fire in the region since heavy fighting there broke out on Sept. 27. (AP Photo)

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Reports of renewed shelling on Monday challenged the new cease-fire in the conflict over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, where heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces has raged for over three weeks.

Saturday’s truce was the second attempt to try to end the fighting that has killed hundreds since Sept. 27, when clashes resumed in a conflict that has simmered for decades. A cease-fire brokered by Russia earlier this month quickly frayed as both sides blamed each other for repeated violations.

Azerbaijan on Monday morning accused Armenian forces of firing at its positions in the Azerbaijani regions of Tovuz, Dashkesan and Goygol that lie outside of the conflict zone.

Azerbaijani officials also said three villagers and a reporter were wounded in the Agdam region of Azerbaijan, which they said was being shelled throughout the day, along with the Terter region.

The state-run Armenian Unified Infocenter said Azerbaijan shelled the town of Martuni and several villages in Nagorno-Karabakh overnight, and the Nagorno-Karabakh military said Azerbaijan resumed shelling in some areas.

Separately, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev announced that the country’s forces have taken control of 13 villages in the Jabrayil region near the Iranian border.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. By then, Armenian forces not only held Nagorno-Karabakh itself but also captured substantial areas outside the territory’s borders.

According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 729 of their troops have been killed since Sept. 27, along with 36 civilians. Azerbaijan hasn’t disclosed its military losses, but says 60 civilians have died so far and 270 were wounded.

The recent fighting involved heavy artillery, rockets and drones and has continued despite repeated international calls for ending hostilities. It is the biggest escalation in years over Nagorno-Karabakh and raised concerns of a wider conflict involving Turkey, which has publicly supported Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a security pact with Armenia.

On Oct. 9, Moscow hosted foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. After more than 10 hours of talks, they announced a cease-fire deal, which was violated minutes after it took force.

The new truce followed conversations between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his counterparts from Armenia and Azerbaijan, in which he urged them to abide by the Moscow deal. Despite the agreement, both sides have reported attacks, including on civilian infrastructure.

Azerbaijan’s Prosecutor General’s office said Armenian forces targeted an oil pipeline in the country’s Khizi region, far from the conflict zone, with a missile on Sunday that was “neutralized” by the Azerbaijani army. Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanian dismissed the statement as a “blatant lie.”

Lavrov again called for an immediate end to hostilities and admitted that existing agreements failed to “drastically change the situation on the ground.”

After the talks in Moscow, “the hostilities continued, strikes on civilian infrastructure continued, on populated settlements. It is unacceptable,” Lavrov said.

In order for a cease-fire to hold, a mechanism needs to be put in place in order to monitor how the sides comply with the truce, and Russia was working on developing it with Armenia and Azerbaijan, he said.

“I hope such a mechanism would be agreed upon shortly,” Lavrov added.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian told Russia’s state Tass news agency that he was “prepared to make all the necessary efforts” to resolve the conflict peacefully, including going to Moscow and talking with Aliev.

Pashinian alleged that Azerbaijan “disagrees” that the conflict should have a peaceful resolution.

Aliyev, asked by Tass if he was prepared to do the same, said: “We are always prepared to meet in Moscow or any other place in order to put an end to the confrontation and find ways of resolving” the conflict.

He added that Baku is prepared to halt the fighting “as soon as tomorrow … if Armenia acts constructively on the negotiation track.”

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Associated Press writers Daria Litvinova in Moscow and Aida Sultanova in London contributed.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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