New ceasefire announced in 4-week Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

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YREVAN, Armenia (AP) – Fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh region continued on Sunday, but Armenia and Azerbaijan reiterated their commitment to a peaceful resolution of their decades-old conflict and agreed a third attempt to establish a ceasefire after four weeks of hostilities.

The agreement on a truce to begin at 8 a.m. (0400 GMT) on Monday was announced in a joint statement by the governments of the United States, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Two previous Russian-brokered ceasefires, including one last weekend, collapsed immediately after taking the force, with both sides accusing each other of violations.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet on Sunday evening that the United States had facilitated “intensive negotiations” and that Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov “are committed to implement and respect the ceasefire ”which comes into force on Monday.

Russia, the United States and France, co-chairs of the so-called Minsk Group set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to mediate the conflict, also took part in the talks, Pompeo said.

In a separate statement, the group’s co-chairs said they would meet with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Geneva on Thursday “to discuss, reach an agreement and start the implementation … of all the necessary measures to reach an agreement. peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “

Nagorno-Karabakh is located in Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of the war in 1994. The last fighting which started on September 27 involved heavy artillery, rockets and drones, killing hundreds of people in the biggest escalation. hostilities between the neighbors of the South Caucasus in more than a quarter of a century.

The deadly clashes continued despite numerous calls for a cessation of hostilities and two attempts to establish a ceasefire.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed the ceasefire agreement and reiterated his call on Armenia and Azerbaijan to fully implement it without delay and “resume negotiations on fund without preconditions, ”said UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric.

The UN chief urged the parties to allow unhindered humanitarian access to Nagorno-Karabakh to deliver aid and “to take concrete steps towards a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” Dujarric said.

According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 974 of their troops and 37 civilians have been killed in the clashes so far. Azerbaijani authorities have not disclosed their military casualties, but claim the fighting killed 65 civilians and injured 300.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that according to reports from Moscow, the fighting toll was around 5,000, far higher than both sides reported.

Pompeo hosted the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers on Friday for separate talks, but the fighting raged unabated.

On Sunday morning, the Nagorno-Karabakh army said the battles were continuing “in all directions of the front line” and the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry accused the Armenian forces of targeting several Azerbaijani regions. Armenian military officials reported “intense fighting” in the conflict zone throughout the day and “fierce battles” on Sunday evening.

The four weeks of fighting have raised concerns about a wider conflict involving Turkey, which has thrown its weight behind Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a security pact with Armenia.

She also worried Iran, which has borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan. Iran has sometimes complained about mortar shells and rockets that injured people and damaged buildings in rural areas near the border.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards said on Sunday that they had deployed units of its ground forces to the border near the conflict zone, the country’s state radio reported. General Mohammad Pakpour, head of the Guard’s land forces, said Iran would not accept any action that “violates” the security and peace of the Iranian people in the region.

Armenia and Azerbaijan said they were committed to a peaceful resolution and accused each other of obstructing the peace.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh to end the fighting. “A ceasefire cannot be without conditions. The truce is only possible after the Armenian leaders announced the withdrawal of their troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, ”Aliyev said Sunday.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, in turn, accused Azerbaijan of adopting an “unconstructive” position in the negotiations. “To solve this problem, we need give and take. Every time Armenia expresses its willingness to make concessions… Azerbaijan presents new demands, new conditions, ”Pashinian said in an interview on Sunday.

The announcement of the new ceasefire came several hours after these remarks.

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien tweeted on Sunday that the president asked him to meet with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers at the White House on Friday and that he spoke by phone Saturday with Pashinian and Aliyev.

“Congratulations to everyone for agreeing to join the ceasefire today,” said O’Brien, adding that Pompeo and his deputy Stephen Biegun had played a key role. “Lives will be saved in both countries.”

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Associated Press editors Daria Litvinova in Moscow, Aida Sultanova in London, Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.

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