Azerbaijan and Armenia have exchanged 200 bodies of those killed in fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, the Russian state media reported on Tuesday citing the Red Cross.
The bodies were exchanged in the presence of Russian peacekeeping troops, according to the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer.
A Red Cross spokesperson dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict did not confirm the number of bodies that were exchanged, but said the process began last week.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in the six-week flare-up between Azerbaijan and neighbouring Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Dozens of civilians are among the victims, from both sides, and hundreds of Armenia-backed troops. Azerbaijan has not yet released its military death toll.
Nagorno-Karabakh is in Azerbaijan but has been dominated by ethnic Armenians for years.
Azerbaijan made significant territorial gains in its military offensive into the region, which began in late September.
Armenia agreed to cede several parts of the region to Azerbaijan as part of a peace deal agreed last week between the two sides and regional power Russia.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a close ally of Azerbaijan – sent a motion on Monday to the Turkish parliament to deploy soldiers to Azerbaijan to monitor the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, according to Turkish state news agency Anadolu.
In Armenia, with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan under pressure with anger rising over his acceptance of the peace deal, President Armen Sarkissian, largely a figurehead, has called for early parliamentary elections.
“Taking into consideration the current situation and the imperative to overcome it with dignity, also listening to the public demand, it is obvious that in order to keep the country from jolting, early elections to the National Assembly will be inevitable.”
As Armenians mourn their losses, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his wife, first Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva, have been touring the region.
Cheering crowds greeted Aliyev and Aliyeva as they travelled on Monday to Jebrayil and Fizuli districts, sporting military fatigues, pictures and video released on Tuesday by the Azerbaijani presidency showed.
“There will be no [autonomous] status for Karabakh. Azerbaijan is a unified country,” Aliyev said as he was driving an Azerbaijani-made armoured car AzerKan through the roads of Fizuli district.
Holding hands, the couple took pictures against the backdrop of the medieval Khudaferin bridge at the country’s border with Iran that was under ethnic Armenians’ control for nearly 30 years.
Azərbaycan Respublikasının Prezidenti İlham Əliyev və birinci xanım Mehriban Əliyeva işğaldan azad edilmiş Cəbrayıl rayonuna səfər edib pic.twitter.com/uXFHYdtxz8
— Mehriban Aliyeva (@1VicePresident) November 17, 2020
Armenians “have destroyed everything here and will answer for that in international courts”, Aliyev said pointing towards the panorama of the ruined town of Jebrayil.
“Look at what the villainous enemy did to the town of Jebrayil. Their goal was that Azerbaijanis never return here. But we will be living here. We are back to our native lands.”