U.S. announces new Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire as fighting persists

FILE PHOTO: An Azerbaijani military helicopter flies during the fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh near the city of Terter, Azerbaijan October 23, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo

BAKU/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Sunday said a new humanitarian ceasefire will take effect on Monday in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, even as fresh fighting erupted between the two sides.

The latest ceasefire is due to take effect at 8 a.m. local time (12 a.m. EDT) on Oct. 26, the U.S. State Department and the governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia said in a joint statement.

“Congratulations to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who just agreed to adhere to a cease fire effective at midnight. Many lives will be saved,” U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter.

The announcement came after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held separate meetings with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington on Friday.

“Those meetings were joined by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, formed to mediate the conflict and led by France, Russia and the United States, which described them as “intensive discussions” on the ceasefire and the beginning of talks about core elements of a comprehensive solution.

The Minsk Group said its co-chairs and the foreign ministers agreed to meet again in Geneva on Oct. 29.

A senior administration official expressed confidence that this ceasefire would hold. “U.S. leadership with support from Russia and France brings additional hope that the ceasefire will lead to a lasting peace settlement,” said the official.

But the eruption of new fighting on Sunday and the collapse of two previous ceasefires brokered by Russia raised questions about the prospects for this fresh push to end the clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh, a part of Azerbaijan populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.

The fighting that broke out on Sept. 27 over the disputed territory has surged to its worst level since the 1990s, when some 30,000 people were killed.

Local officials in Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday accused Azeri forces of firing artillery on settlements in the areas of Askeran and Martuni during the night. Azerbaijan said its positions had been attacked with small arms, mortars, tanks and howitzers.

Armenia accused Azeri forces of shelling civilian settlements. Baku denied killing civilians and said it was ready to implement a ceasefire, provided Armenian forces withdrew from the battlefield.

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