Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused each other of violating a new “humanitarian ceasefire” in the conflict over the mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh shortly after it had been due to take effect on Monday.
On Sunday, a joint statement from the US Department of State and the two governments said the truce would take effect at 8am (04:00 GMT) on Monday, adding that US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun had met the foreign ministers of the two countries on Saturday.
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On Monday, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said Armenian forces shelled villages in the Terter and Lachin regions in “gross violation” of the truce.
Hikmet Hajiyev, aide to Azerbaijan’s president, said Armenian forces began their artillery attacks minutes after the truce began.
PM of Armenia is lying over again. Since 08.04 armed forces of Armenia started shelling Tartar region and its villages in violation of humanitarian ceasefire. As reported by MOD Azerbaijan armed forces of Armenia with artillery and mine launchers attacking our forces since 08.05 pic.twitter.com/PJifjN0G4N
— Hikmet Hajiyev (@HikmetHajiyev) October 26, 2020
Nagorno-Karabakh’s defence ministry said Hajiyev’s claim was “misinformation” and that Azeri forces had launched a missile attack on Armenian military positions on the northeastern side of the line of contact.
Armenia’s defence ministry said Azerbaijani forces “grossly violated” the agreement with artillery fire on combat positions in various parts of the front line, 45 minutes after the truce came into effect.
An earlier truce brought a brief lull on Saturday before each side accused the other of violating it.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a bitter conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a part of Azerbaijan populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians, for decades.
Ethnic Armenians in the region declared independence as the Soviet Union was collapsing in 1991, kicking off a war that killed some 30,000 people from 1991 to 1994 and left Nagorno-Karabakh outside Baku’s control.
Armenians regard the enclave as part of their historic homeland; Azeris consider it illegally occupied land that must be returned to their control.
A fragile ceasefire has existed since then but heavy fighting flared up again on September 27.
More than 1,000 people have been reported dead in the fighting, mainly Armenian fighters but also dozens of civilians. Azerbaijan has not released any figures on its military casualties.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that close to 5,000 people had been killed in the conflict.
Russia, France and the US are leaders of the Minsk Group, formed to mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which has failed since the 1990s to bring about a negotiated settlement to the conflict.
This year’s fighting is the heaviest since the 1994 ceasefire, raising fears that Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey and Russia, which has a military alliance with Armenia, could be further drawn into the conflict.