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Armenia and Azerbaijan reach new ceasefire for Nagorno-Karabakh

GORIS, Armenia – Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to a new ceasefire in their conflict over disputed territory, the countries said on Saturday, days after a truce negotiated a week earlier was was devastated.

Warring neighbors in the southern Caucasus region announced the agreement on the disputed territory, Nagorno-Karabakh, in laconic statements released by their foreign ministries on Saturday evening, describing it as a “humanitarian truce” to allow prisoners and the remains of the dead to be exchanged.

But the intense fighting leading up to the announcement raised questions whether this ceasefire would be more lasting than the deal reached after 10 hours of talks in Moscow last weekend, which failed. to end the fierce conflict along the front line.

The new truce took effect at midnight, but neither side provided a timeline for how long it would last.

France said it had negotiated the last ceasefire in the days and hours leading up to Saturday’s announcement, in coordination with Russia and the United States.

“This ceasefire must be unconditional and strictly respected by both parties,” French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in a statement. “France will be very attentive to this and will remain engaged so that hostilities cease durably and that credible discussions can begin quickly.”

Any interruption of the conflict would be welcome for the inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh and its surroundings, in the unstable region of the South Caucasus between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea.

The war has already killed more than 600 Armenian soldiers, dozens of civilians and an unknown number of Azerbaijanis. It threatened to degenerate into a broader regional conflict, with the potential to further attract Turkey, Azerbaijan’s main ally; Russia, which has a mutual defense agreement with Armenia; and even the region’s southern neighbor, Iran.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnically Armenian enclave which is part of Azerbaijan under international law but which is closely related to Armenia.

A previous war on Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s killed some 20,000 people and displaced around a million, mostly Azerbaijani. Years of tension since then between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the status of the enclave erupted into open war on September 27, with Azerbaijan seeking to take control of the territory by force.

Azerbaijan said on Saturday that 14 people were killed in the city of Ganja, the country’s second largest, in a nighttime missile attack by Armenia.

The Nagorno-Karabakh capital Stepanakert was also attacked on Friday night, with the din of air raid sirens and explosions echoing through the largely empty city until early Saturday morning.

Along the front lines, Azerbaijan and Armenia engaged in trench warfare and artillery combat, taking heavy casualties while fighting for small plots of land.

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