France, Russia and US call for immediate truce in Nagorno-Karabakh
Armenian officials said Friday the country was ready to discuss a ceasefire in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh following calls for an immediate truce from the presidents of France, Russia and the US. Turkey, however, says the three big powers should have no role in negotiating peace.
France, Russia and the United States are co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group, set up in 1992 to mediate in the decades-old conflict over the mountainous enclave in the South Caucasus.
They appealed for peace as the death toll rose in the heaviest clashes since the 1990s around Nagorno-Karabakh – part of Azerbaijan, but run by its mostly ethnic Armenian inhabitants.
"We call for an immediate cessation of hostilities between the relevant military forces," the joint French, Russian and US statement said late on Thursday.
They urged the ex-Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan to "commit without delay to resuming substantive negotiations, in good faith and without preconditions" under what is called the Minsk process.
Heeding the call, Armenia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday that the country stands “ready to engage” with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group “to reestablish a cease-fire regime based on the 1994-1995 agreements”.
“Armenia remains committed to the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” the statement read.
But in a speech to the Turkish parliament on Thursday President Tayyip Erdogan said he opposed the involvement of the co-chairs of the Minsk group.
"Given that the USA, Russia and France have neglected this problem for nearly 30 years, it is unacceptable that they are involved in a search for a ceasefire," Erdogan said.
He said a lasting ceasefire could be achieved only if "Armenian occupiers" withdrew from Nagorno-Karabakh.
His comments are likely to fuel tension with his NATO allies as fears mount that the conflict could draw in regional powers Russia, which has a military base in majority Christian Armenia, and Turkey, a close ally of mainly Muslim Azerbaijan.
Mounting death toll
Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan in a 1991-94 war that killed 30,000 people, but is not recognised internationally as an independent republic. Clashes there have renewed concern about stability in the South Caucasus, a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets.
Deadly clashes in the region resumed Friday, with Armenian military officials reporting Azerbaijan carrying out strikes on Nagorno-Karabakh's capital Stepanakert, and Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry accusing Armenian forces of shelling the Agdam region.
The region's officials said more than 150 servicemen on their side have been killed so far. Azerbaijani authorities haven't provided details on its military casualties, but said 19 civilians have been killed and 55 more have been wounded.
Several journalists were wounded in shelling of the Matruni town on Thursday. Two of them were French citizens working with Le Monde newspaper.
Reporter Allan Kaval and photographer Rafael Yaghobzadeh were taken to the Stepanakert hospital and operated on there, and were being evacuated Friday morning to Yerevan. The two will be then taken to Paris, Le Monde reported.
In an article published Friday, Le Monde said they had travelled to Matruni on Thursday morning to “state for themselves the extent of the damage” from this week’s fighting. They were with several French, Armenian and other journalists when the town was attacked.
The report quotes regional human rights ombudsman Artak Beglaryan as saying four civilians were killed and 11 other people wounded in the shelling.
Alleged deployment of Syrian mercenaries
French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on the need for a ceasefire in a telephone call late on Wednesday.
Their joint statement with US President Donald Trump was issued hours later on Thursday. Macron's office said he and Putin had shared "concern regarding the sending of Syrian mercenaries by Turkey to Nagorno-Karabakh".
A Kremlin statement did not mention this. But the Russian news agency TASS quoted the Kremlin as saying the alleged deployment of fighters from Syria and Libya to Nagorno-Karabakh was extremely dangerous.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart had spoken by phone and expressed their willingness to cooperate closely to stabilise the situation, Lavrov's ministry said.
Turkey has said it will "do what is necessary" to support Azerbaijan, but has denied sending mercenaries.
Macron, whose country is home to about 600,000 people of Armenian origin, has accused Turkey of "warlike" rhetoric. A German government source said EU leaders would discuss the conflict at an ongoing summit meeting.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)
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