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France, U.S., Russia Issue Joint Call For Peace As Fighting Rages In Nagorno-Karabakh

By RFE/RL's Armenian Service, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service October 01, 2020

BAKU/YEREVAN -- Heavy shelling between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces persisted for a fifth day as the two sides continued to ignore repeated calls from international leaders to halt fighting over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

As the death toll rose in the heaviest clashes since the 1990s around the region -- part of Azerbaijan but run by its mostly ethnic Armenian inhabitants -- France, Russia, and the United States called on October 1 for "an immediate cessation of hostilities between the relevant military forces."

In their joint statement, presidents Emmanuel Macron, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump acted in their capacity as co-chairs of the so-called Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which mediates in the conflict.

The trio also called on the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to "commit without delay to resuming substantive negotiations, in good faith and without preconditions, under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs."

Earlier in the day, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said that its forces carried out "crushing artillery strikes against Armenian forces' positions in the occupied territories" overnight.

Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh said both sides exchanged artillery fire, describing the situation along the front line as "tense."

More than 100 people, including many civilians, have been killed since fighting erupted on September 27 -- the worst flare-up in years over region, whose status has been disputed for decades.

Heavy clashes -- including the use of armed drones, tanks, helicopters, and multiple-rocket systems -- have been reported along much of the Line of Contact that separates the ethnic Armenian forces who control Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan's troops.

The upsurge of violence has threatened to draw in Russia, a member of a security alliance with Armenia, and NATO member Turkey, which said that it will back Azerbaijan with "every means available" in the conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts to inform them that his country was willing to host negotiations.

Putin and Macron also held a phone call to discuss the situation, with both leaders calling on the sides to "implement an immediate and full cease-fire, de-escalate tensions and show maximum restraint," according to the Kremlin.

Macron's office said he and Putin "also shared their concern regarding the sending of Syrian mercenaries by Turkey to Nagorno-Karabakh." It did not provide further information.

Yerevan has accused Turkey of dispatching mercenaries from northern Syria to bolster Azerbaijani forces.

Answering a question regarding the allegations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that "any participation of third countries in this standoff may have extremely negative consequences."

The potential for robust Turkish involvement in the conflict is being watched closely by Russia, which is already on opposing sides with the NATO member in conflicts in Libya and Syria.

Russia is among the largest suppliers of weaponry to both Azerbaijan and Armenia. It also has a military base in Armenia.

Turkey's involvement is also raising attention in Europe, with Macron accusing Ankara of "reckless and dangerous" statements backing Azerbaijan.

The recent flare-up of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as Turkey's involvement, is likely to come up during an EU leaders summit starting on the evening of October 1.

Reports said two French nationals working for the Le Monde newspaper were wounded on October 1 during shelling of the town of Martuni in Nagorno-Karabakh and taken to hospital.

Reuters quoted Le Monde Chief Editor Luc Bronner as confirming that two of its journalists, including one photographer, had been injured. No further details were immediately available.

Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in conflict over the mountain region since the waning years of the Soviet Union. They fought a war that ended in 1994 with an uneasy cease-fire and an estimated 30,000 killed.

Since then, Nagorno-Karabakh has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, TASS, and Interfax

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-france-call-for -cease-fire-in-nagorno-karabakh/30867685.html

Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.



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