Armenia, Azerbaijan trade accusations during ceasefire

Armenia, Azerbaijan trade accusations during ceasefire

Yerevan (AFP) - Armenia and Azerbaijan on Saturday traded accusations over the shelling of each other's territory in violation of a days-old ceasefire aimed at halting a flareup of violence over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region.

The two former Soviet neighbours exchanged fire overnight but there were no reports of casualties.

A Moscow-mediated truce went into effect on Tuesday after the worst outbreak of violence since the 1990s, but some clashes have continued, with two people reported killed on Friday.

The Armenian defence ministry said Azerbaijan fired on the border area in northern Tavush region 16 times, including with "large calibre" weaponry, but said the intensity of shooting had "subsided".

It said two bodies were recovered during a search along the contact line between Azerbaijan and the separatist Nagorny Karabakh region, hiking the overall toll from the clashes to at least 92.

Baku in turn said Armenia used 60-mm mortars and other firepower to "violate the ceasefire 120 times" overnight, firing on Azeri positions in northern Gazakh, Tovuz and Agstafa regions, among others.

Separatist authorities in Nagorny Karabakh also accused Azerbaijan of shelling its position in the disputed area.

Shooting along the contact line with Nagorny Karabakh as well the Azeri-Armenian border had been a regular occurence for years.

World leaders have urged Baku and Yerevan to refrain from further violence and to step up efforts aimed at finding a diplomatic solution to the protracted conflict.

On Saturday the Russian, US and French co-chairs of the Minsk Group seeking an end to the conflict said they hoped Yerevan and Baku would return to the negotiating table.

"The principal mission is to help stabilise the situation and take steps to ensure that there is not new fighting," Russian ambassador Igor Popov told a press conference in Yerevan.

"It is also to get Azerbaijan and Armenia sitting down at the negotiating table," he added after he and his French and US counterparts met Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in Baku, Karabakh leaders in Stepanakert.

They were also due to meet Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian.

US ambassador James Warlick added that the three diplomats had met with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). "We are deeply distressed by all reports of human right violations," he said.

Armenia-backed separatists seized control of Nagorny Karabakh, which is located inside Azerbaijan's territory but populated mainly by Christian ethnic Armenians, in an early 1990s war that claimed some 30,000 lives.

It ended in 1994 with a ceasefire.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev travelled to Yerevan and Baku on Thursday and Friday to urge them to refrain from further violence, saying in an interview published Saturday that the situation has gone from "massive military actions" to sporadic shooting.

Moscow has a military alliance with Yerevan but supplies both sides with weapons, a situation Medvedev indicated will continue.

"If Russia abandons this role, we understand perfectly well that this role will not be empty. They will buy weapons from other countries... this could destroy the existing balance," he told Rossiya channel which was published by Russian agencies before it aired in Moscow.

"I don't think that the appearance of weapons suppliers from other countries will alleviate the situation, I think the situation will become more difficult," he said.

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