YREVAN, Armenia (AP) – Armenia and Azerbaijan on Friday pledged to avoid bombing residential areas amid fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, a pledge that follows a day of talks in Geneva even as Azerbaijani troops were pushing deeper into separatist territory.
The two sides agreed that they “will not deliberately target civilian populations or non-military property in accordance with international humanitarian law”. They also pledged to help recover and exchange the remains of soldiers left on the battlefield and, within a week, submit lists of prisoners of war with the aim of “allowing access and possibly exchange. “.
The talks between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan were sponsored by the so-called Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, co-chaired by Russia, the United States and France. The co-chairs said in a statement issued after the talks that Armenia and Azerbaijan had also pledged to present their proposals for possible ceasefire verification mechanisms.
Nagorno-Karabakh is in Azerbaijan, but has been under the control of Armenian-based forces backed by Armenia since the end of a war in 1994. The last outburst of hostilities began on September 27 and claimed hundreds and perhaps thousands dead, marking the worst escalation in the fighting. since the end of the war.
A US-brokered truce frayed immediately after it took effect on Monday, as did two previous Russian-brokered ceasefires. The warring parties have repeatedly accused each other of violations.
During Friday’s talks, the Minsk Group co-chairs urged the parties to honor their ceasefire commitments. “The co-chairs will continue to work intensively with the parties to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict,” they said in a statement.
While senior diplomats held tense talks in Geneva, Azerbaijani forces continued to push their offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh after more than a month of heavy fighting.
Intense clashes are taking place in southern Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian defense ministry said. The Azerbaijani army reported that areas in the Terter and Gubadli regions of Azerbaijan had been shelled by the Armenians.
On Thursday, the Nagorno-Karabakh separatist leader said Azerbaijani troops had surrendered within 5 kilometers (about 3 miles) of a strategically located town just south of the region’s capital, Stepanakert.
In grim recognition of Azerbaijani achievements, Arayik Harutyunyan urged residents to mobilize all their resources to repel the attack on Shushi, a town on the main road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.
“Whoever controls Shushi controls Nagorno-Karabakh,” said Harutyunyan, standing next to Shushi Cathedral which was badly damaged by Azerbaijani bombardments earlier this month.
In Stepanakert, a group of people boarded a bus bound for Armenia to escape the fighting.
“I do not want to leave. I want to stay at home in the village but they told us we had to leave, ”said Valya Sogomonyan, who fled her village in the Askeran region. “The Azerbaijanis are bombing our village. We leave our house and all our things behind us.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev insisted that Azerbaijan has the right to take back its territory by force after three decades of international mediation without result. He said Armenia must commit to withdrawing from Nagorno-Karabakh as a condition of a lasting truce.
Azerbaijani troops, which relied on strike drones and long-range rocket systems provided by Turkey, regained control of several areas on the fringes of Nagorno-Karabakh and entered the separatist territory from the south.
According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 1,166 of their soldiers and 39 civilians were killed. Azerbaijani authorities have not disclosed their military losses, but say the fighting has killed at least 91 civilians and injured 400.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that according to reports from Moscow, the actual death toll was significantly higher, hovering around 5,000.
Associated Press editors Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Aida Sultanova in London contributed to this report.