Karabakh gets Red Cross aid via two routes, in step to ease crisis

By Felix Light and Nailia Bagirova

TBILISI (Reuters) - Badly needed food and medicines were delivered to Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday along two roads simultaneously, a step that could ease mounting tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had sent trucks via the Lachin corridor leading from Armenia into the mountain enclave from the southwest, and the Aghdam road from Azerbaijani government-held territory to the northeast.

"We are extremely relieved that many people reliant on humanitarian aid will finally receive much-needed support in the coming days," said Ariane Bauer, ICRC's regional director for Europe and Central Asia.

"People are queuing hours for bread," she said, adding that she hoped aid convoys would continue "not just today but in the weeks to come, so that we can regularly get aid to those who need it".

She said the deliveries had been made possible by agreement between the rival authorities.

Azerbaijan had virtually cut traffic from Armenia since December, alleging it was being used to smuggle arms. That triggered food shortages in Karabakh and aggravated tensions with Yerevan.

In a statement on Facebook, the Karabakh administration said around 23 tonnes of flour as well as medical and hygiene products had arrived in the region.

Azerbaijan's foreign ministry said in a statement that it had agreed to the ICRC shipments, and that it was ready to ensure the parallel use of the two roads.

Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but has an overwhelmingly ethnic Armenian population that broke from Baku's control in the early 1990s after a war, relying on support from Armenia through the Lachin corridor.

In another war in late 2020, Azerbaijan recaptured swathes of land in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, establishing effective control over the corridor.

Baku has insisted that Karabakh must reopen an access route from Azerbaijani territory that has been blocked since 1988, and earlier this month a single Russian aid truck entered Karabakh along that road.

Monday's delivery fulfilled the other side of an agreement between Yerevan and Baku, but wider tensions remain.

The two countries frequently exchange fire along their closed and heavily fortified border and Armenia has in recent weeks repeatedly accused Azerbaijan of massing troops around Karabakh, an allegation Azerbaijan has denied.

The Armenian state news agency Armenpress said on Sunday that one person in Karabakh had been wounded by firing from Azerbaijani positions. Azerbaijan accused Karabakh forces of building fortifications near the front line, and said it had taken "urgent measures" to stop them from doing so.

(Reporting by Felix Light in Tbilisi and Nailia Bagirova; editing by Mark Trevelyan and Kevin Liffey)