A fresh “humanitarian truce” has come into force between Armenia and Azerbaijan as both Russia and France said they intervened in an attempt to mediate an end to the latest escalation in violence over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The agreement on Saturday came a week after Russia brokered a truce, which failed to stop the worst fighting in the region in decades. Both warring sides accused each other of violations.
“The Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan have agreed to a humanitarian truce as of October 18, 00h00 local time (October 17, 20:00 GMT),” Armenia’s foreign ministry said in a statement. Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry confirmed the move in an identical statement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called his Armenian and Azeri counterparts in the hours before the announcement, his ministry said, urging both parties to adhere to the deal brokered in Moscow last week.
France also put out a statement after Saturday’s announcement, saying it followed “French mediation … in co-ordination with the co-chairs of the Minsk Group (Russia and the US)”.
The statement from the Elysee Palace also called on both sides to “strictly” respect the truce, adding that “France will pay great attention to that and will remain engaged for a lasting end to hostilities and a quick start of credible negotiations.”
The truce announcement came hours after Azerbaijan accused Armenia of perpetrating a war crime during a missile attack on its second city of Ganja, a charge echoed by ally Turkey.
Armenia denied responsibility for the attack, which left 13 civilians – including two children – dead and dozens wounded.
Images distributed by Azerbaijan showed rescue workers looking for survivors under destroyed houses, including the use of sniffer dogs. The authorities spoke of considerable damage.
Armenia, for its part, reported rocket attacks by Azerbaijan, including on the main city of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert, wounding at least three civilians.
On Twitter, Armenian authorities described as “misinformation” a claim from Azerbaijan that it had downed an Armenian Su-25 aircraft over the region of Jebrail, which borders Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry earlier said it had made further gains on the front line, bringing several villages and a city under its control.
Decades of conflict
The contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, a mountainous and heavily forested patch of land, is at the heart of a decades-long armed standoff between neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Home to some 145,000, Nagorno-Karabakh is controlled by ethnic Armenians backed by the Republic of Armenia, but is recognised as part of Azerbaijan under international law.
Azerbaijan lost control of the area in a war that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union some 30 years ago. A fragile ceasefire had been in place since 1994.
Thousands of people have fled the region, predominantly inhabited by ethnic Armenians, since fighting flared up again on September 27.
The Armenian defence ministry said that more than 600 soldiers had been killed since then.
Azerbaijan has so far not provided any information on losses in its armed forces but it says that more than 50 civilians were killed in Armenian attacks.