Mediators urge Armenia, Azerbaijan to negotiate in wake of truce deal

International mediators urged Armenia and Azerbaijan on Tuesday to honour their new ceasefire agreement after recent fighting in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, and to negotiate a solution to their long-standing conflict.

"Reports on the cessation of hostilities are encouraging. Our immediate efforts must now focus on stabilizing the ceasefire and preventing any new escalation," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is chairing the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) this year.

A group of Russian, French and US diplomats who co-chair an OSCE mediation group set on resolving the long-standing conflict travelled to Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday, following consultations at OSCE headquarters in Vienna.

"The deterioration of the situation on the ground demonstrates the need for an immediate negotiation, under the auspices of the co-chairs, on a comprehensive settlement," the so-called Minsk Group said in a written statement.

Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on Tuesday to an immediate ceasefire after a recent surge of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, the TASS news agency reported, citing Armenia's Defence Ministry.

"Operations along the line of contact between the Azerbaijani and Armenian forces have been suspended from noon local time [0900 GMT] on April 5 upon the agreement of the parties," the Armenian ministry was quoted as saying.

Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry confirmed to the Interfax news agency that a ceasefire deal had been reached.

The two former Soviet republics have fought for decades over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, populated primarily by Armenian Christians but recognized by the United Nations as part of predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan.

Both countries have traded blame for sudden violence that reportedly erupted on Friday night. The fighting has been the most severe since a ceasefire was agreed in 1994.

OSCE monitors stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh have yet to confirm that the ceasefire is holding because they have not yet been able to reach the areas where fighting has taken place, according to an OSCE spokesman.

The eruption of violence has happened amid wider regional tensions.

Armenia is in a military alliance with Russia, while Azerbaijan enjoys close ties with Turkey. Relations between Russia and Turkey are currently tense as they back opposing sides in the Syrian civil war.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will visit Armenia on Thursday and Azerbaijan on Friday as part of efforts to restore peace in the region, the Interfax news agency reported, citing his spokeswoman.

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan had told OSCE representatives on Monday that the conflict has the potential to devolve into an all-out war.

Sargsyan was scheduled to visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday for talks expected to focus on the heightened regional tensions.

Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry said in a statement on its website Monday that 170 soldiers had died in the recent clashes.

According to Armenia's Defence Ministry, Azerbaijani troops started the fighting with an offensive involving tanks and artillery, to which Armenian forces responded by shooting down a combat helicopter and destroying several tanks and drones.

Azerbaijan denied the allegations, saying its soldiers were reacting to heavy attacks from the Armenian side.

Last update: Tue, 05/04/2016 - 20:26

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