Armenia, Azerbaijan trade fresh accusations of Karabakh attacks

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YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Armenia and Azerbaijan once more accused each other of bombing residential areas on Saturday, in defiance of a pact to avoid the deliberate targeting of civilians in and around the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

FILE PHOTO: A man drives a car past a damaged building following recent shelling in the town of Shushi (Shusha), in the course of a military conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, October 29, 2020. Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS/File Photo

Shelling was reported by both sides within hours of the latest agreement to defuse the conflict, reached after talks in Geneva between the two countries’ foreign ministers and envoys from France, Russia and the United States.

The agreement with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group fell short of what would have been a fourth ceasefire since fighting began on Sept. 27. The death toll in the worst fighting in the South Caucasus for more than 25 years has surpassed 1,000 and is possibly much higher.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but is populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians. About 30,000 people were killed in a 1991-94 war in the region.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Emergency and Rescue Service said the central market in Stepanakert, the enclave’s largest city, had come under fire and that large parts of it had been burned.

Shushan Stepanyan, spokeswoman for the Armenian defence ministry, also said several civilians had been wounded in attacks on the strategic city of Shushi, 15 km (9 miles) to the south of Stepanakert.

Azerbaijan’s defence ministry denied both accusations. It said that the regions of Terter, Aghdam and Aghjabedi had come under artillery fire, as had Gubadli, a town between the enclave and the Iranian border that was taken by Azeri troops this week.

More than 1,000 fighters from the Nagorno-Karabakh army have been killed. Azerbaijan has not disclosed its military casualties, while Russia has estimated as many as 5,000 deaths on both sides.

Three ceasefires have failed to halt the fighting, the most recent brokered in Washington last Sunday by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The OSCE Minsk Group said Armenia and Azerbaijan had also agreed to exchange the bodies of fighters and to provide within a week lists of detained prisoners of war, with the aim of an eventual exchange.

Reporting by Nailia Bagirova in Baku and Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan; Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Frances Kerry