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Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia and Azerbaijan shaky ceasefire in force

A temporary ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan has begun following nearly two weeks of fierce fighting in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

However, less than an hour into the truce, which came into force at midday local time (08:00 GMT), each side accused the other of breaking it.

Armenia and Azerbaijan also accused each other of bombarding civilian areas ahead of the ceasefire.

The truce aims to enable an exchange of prisoners and the recovery of bodies.

More than 300 people have died and thousands been displaced since the latest violence in the long-running conflict broke out on 27 September.

Nagorno-Karabakh is run by ethnic Armenians although it is officially part of Azerbaijan.

The two former Soviet republics have blamed each other for the latest outbreak of violence – the worst in decades.

How did the ceasefire come about?

It was agreed earlier after 10 hours of talks in the Russian capital Moscow and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the two countries would now begin “substantive” talks.

However Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan later described the talks as “rather difficult” and said Armenia wanted Nagorno-Karabakh to be recognised internationally as an independent state.

Meanwhile Azeri Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov said not enough pressure had been put on Armenia during the talks and the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh could not remain as it was.

Azerbaijan expected to take control of more territory and the ceasefire would last only as long as it took for the Red Cross to arrange for bodies to be exchanged, he said.

Turkey, which backs Azerbaijan, said the truce was Armenia’s “last chance” to withdraw forces from the disputed territory.

Armenian, Azeri and Russian foreign ministers at talksIMAGE COPYRIGHTEPA
image captionThe two countries, mediated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, took 10 hours to agree to a ceasefire

Russia has a military base in Armenia and both are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) alliance.

However, Moscow also has good relations with Azerbaijan.

What’s the latest on the ground?

Armenia’s defence ministry said Azeri forces had launched an attack five minutes after the truce had been due to come into effect, with ethnic Armenian forces responding. Azeri forces were also bombarding a town, the defence ministry said.

Meanwhile Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said Armenia was “blatantly violating the ceasefire regime” and firing into the Azeri regions of Terter and Agdam. Armenia denied this.

There was also intense fighting ahead of the ceasefire. The self-declared ethnic Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said Azerbaijan fired missiles at civilian neighbourhoods of the main city, Stepanakert, while Armenia accused Azeri forces of intensifying drone strikes.

For its part, Azerbaijan said Armenia had shelled populated areas near Nagorno-Karabakh and said it was returning fire.

On Thursday, Armenia accused Azerbaijan of deliberately shelling a historic cathedral in Nagorno-Karabakh. Pictures showed serious damage at the Holy Saviour Cathedral in Shusha city (known as Shushi in Armenian).

At the same time, Azerbaijan said that its second-largest city, Ganja, and the region of Goranboy had been shelled by Armenian forces, with at least one civilian killed.

Speaking to the BBC earlier this week, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan warned of a “genocide” in the region, and said it was “Armenia, land of Armenians”.

The clashes have displaced half of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population – about 70,000 people – officials said.

Stepanakert has suffered several days of shelling with residents sheltering in basements and much of the city left without power.

Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988-94, eventually declaring a ceasefire. However, they never reached a settlement in the dispute.

Map of the region

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