Azerbaijan and Armenia have agreed on a ceasefire starting at noon on Saturday in the breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh, in the grip of the fighting, said Russian diplomacy. The two countries have also agreed to start talks.
“A ceasefire is announced from 12:00 on October 10, 2020 for humanitarian purposes,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, reading a statement following the talks held in Moscow . It was not immediately clear whether it was noon in Moscow (11 a.m. in Switzerland) or in Stepanakert (10 a.m. in Switzerland).
Lavrov said the ceasefire would allow “the exchange of prisoners of war, other people and the bodies of those killed with mediation and in accordance with the criteria of the Committee of the Red Cross.”
Azerbaijan and Armenia have also committed themselves to “substantial negotiations to achieve a rapid peaceful settlement” of the conflict with the mediation of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Lavrov said.
Co-chaired by Russia, the United States and France, the OSCE Minsk Group has been the main international mediator in this conflict since the mid-1990s. The “specific parameters” for the implementation of the ceasefire will be agreed later, added Sergey Lavrov.
Fights during negotiations
These negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Moscow lasted more than 10 hours and ended very late at night from Friday to Saturday. It was the first serious hope for ending the deadly clashes between Armenian separatists from the self-proclaimed Nagorny Karabakh republic, supported by Yerevan, and Azerbaijani forces since September 27.
So far, both sides had remained deaf to the international community’s calls for a ceasefire.
During negotiations in Moscow, an Armenian army spokesman said fighting continued along the front line. On Friday, new bursts of rockets and new explosions were heard in Stepanakert, the separatist capital, by an AFP journalist on the spot.
In his televised speech before the talks in Moscow, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev announced the capture of the city of Hadrut, in southern Nagorno Karabakh, and eight surrounding villages. This information was described as “delirium” by a spokesman for the presidency of the separatists.
Hundreds of deaths
Azerbaijan says it is determined to reconquer Nagorny Karabakh, a separatist region mainly populated by Armenians. He maintains that only a withdrawal of enemy troops would end the fighting.
A first war between 1988 and 1994 left 30,000 dead and hundreds of thousands of refugees there. The front has since remained frozen, despite recurring clashes.
Since the resumption of clashes 13 days ago, the official death toll has risen to more than 400, including 22 Armenian civilians and 31 Azerbaijani. It is very partial, however, and could be much higher, with each side claiming to have eliminated thousands of enemy soldiers. Baku does not reveal its military losses.
The clashes have spread in recent days with shelling in urban areas on both sides. According to the separatist authorities, half of the 140,000 inhabitants of Nagorno Karabakh have already been displaced by these clashes.