April 22, 2018

Crunch talks in Vienna over Nagorno-Karabakh fighting

At least 46 people were killed in three days of fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh [AP]

Talks aimed at ending the worst violence for decades in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh have started in Vienna after 46 people were killed in three days of fighting.

Tuesday’s meeting will gather Russia, the US and France in an attempt to end a low-key conflict that revived last Friday.

Russia and the US have called for the fighting to end but Turkey is standing by Azerbaijan, and predicts the territory its ally has lost will “one day” be recovered.

A landlocked mountainous region with an ethnic Armenian majority lying within Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh has been in dispute since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Separatists backed by Yerevan announced allegiance to Armenia and then declared an independent republic, a move that has not been recognised elsewhere, including by Armenia.

In the subsequent fighting, around 30,000 lives were lost and thousands of people from both ethnic groups fled their homes.

A ceasefire brokered by Russia was signed in 1994, but the two countries have never agreed on a lasting peace.

Azerbaijan announced a unilateral truce on Sunday, but it failed to stop the fighting, and on Monday Armenia said a ceasefire would be possible only if both sides return to their previous positions.

Azerbaijan’s defence minister Zakir Hasanov instead ordered the army to be ready to strike Karabakh’s self-declared capital Stepanakert “in case of continued Armenian bombardment of civilian targets in Azerbaijan”.

Hundreds of ethnic Armenian volunteers have since headed to the city to fight alongside separatist forces, while local authorities have been busy organising shelters for the refugees from frontline villages.

Source: Agencies

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