BAKU / YREVAN (Reuters) – The presidents of France, Russia and the United States on Thursday called for an immediate ceasefire between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces around Nagorno-Karabakh, but the Turkey has said that the three great powers should play no role in the peace movements.
France, Russia and the United States are co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, created in 1992 to mediate the decades-old conflict over the enclave mountainous region of the South Caucasus.
They called for peace as the death toll has risen in the most violent clashes since the 1990s around Nagorno-Karabakh – part of Azerbaijan, but run by its people of mostly Armenian descent.
“We call for an immediate cessation of hostilities between the military forces concerned,” said the joint French, Russian and American statement.
They urged the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan to “immediately undertake to resume substantive negotiations, in good faith and without preconditions” in the framework of the so-called Minsk process. .
But in a speech in the Turkish parliament just before the three countries’ declaration, President Tayyip Erdogan said he was against their involvement.
“Since the United States, Russia and France have neglected this problem for almost 30 years, it is unacceptable that they are involved in the search for a ceasefire,” said Erdogan.
He said that a lasting ceasefire could only be achieved if the “Armenian occupiers” withdrew from Nagorno-Karabakh.
His comments are likely to fuel tensions with his NATO allies as fears grow that the conflict could attract regional powers, Russia, which has a predominantly Christian military base in Armenia, and Turkey, a close ally of predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart spoke by telephone and expressed their willingness to cooperate closely to stabilize the situation, Lavrov’s ministry said.
RATE OF DEATH RATE
Dozens of people have reportedly been killed and hundreds injured since Sunday in fighting that has rekindled concerns about stability in the South Caucasus, a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to global markets.
Nagorno-Karabakh split from Azerbaijan in a 1991-94 war that killed 30,000 people, but is not internationally recognized as an independent republic.
The death toll in Azerbaijan has risen to 19, with 55 injured, the prosecutor’s office said. Azerbaijan has not reported any casualties among its military forces.
Nagorno-Karabakh said 103 of its soldiers had been killed and more than 200 wounded, but gave no figures on civilian casualties.
Armenia said two French nationals working for French newspaper Le Monde were injured in the Azeri bombardment of the town of Martuni in Nagorno-Karabakh, clarifying previous confusion over the location of the incident. An Armenian government source said they were in serious condition.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on the need for a ceasefire in a phone call Wednesday evening. Their joint statement with US President Donald Trump was released a few hours later on Thursday.
Macron’s office said he and Putin shared “concerns about Turkey’s sending Syrian mercenaries to Nagorno-Karabakh.”
A Kremlin statement did not mention it. But Russian news agency TASS quoted the Kremlin as saying that the alleged deployment of fighters from Syria and Libya to Nagorno-Karabakh was extremely dangerous.
Turkey said it would “do whatever it takes” to support Azerbaijan, but denied sending mercenaries.
Macron, whose country is home to around 600,000 people of Armenian origin, accused Turkey of “warlike” rhetoric.
A German government source said EU leaders would discuss the conflict at an ongoing summit. [nL8N2GS1HU]