YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) – Armenia and Azerbaijan have promised on Friday they will avoid shelling on residential areas amid fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, a pledge that comes after a day of negotiations in Geneva even as troops Azerbaijani team moved deeper into separatist territory.
The two sides agreed that they “would not knowingly target civilian groups or non-militarized objects in accordance with international humanitarian law”. They also promised to help recover and exchange the remains of the remaining soldiers on the battlefield and within a week would send a list of prisoners of war with the aim of “providing ultimate access and exchange. . “
The talks between the Armenian and Azerbaijan foreign ministers were sponsored by the so-called Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, co-chaired by Russia, the US and France. The co-chairs said in a statement released after the talks that Armenia and Azerbaijan also promised to make their proposals on possible ceasefire verification mechanisms.
Nagorno-Karabakh is located in Azerbaijan but has been under the control of Armenian-backed Armenian forces since a war there ended in 1994. The most recent conflict started on 27 September and killing hundreds and perhaps thousands, marking the worst escalation of the fighting since the end of the war.
The US-mediated ceasefire broke out shortly after it went into effect on Monday, like the two previous cease-fire that Russia had negotiated. The warring parties have repeatedly blamed each other for violations.
During Friday’s talks, the Minsk Group co-chairs urged the parties to respect their ceasefire pledges. “The co-chairs will continue to work actively with the parties to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict,” they said in a statement.
While top diplomats held tense talks in Geneva, Azerbaijani forces continued their attack on Nagorno-Karabakh after more than a month of fierce fighting.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said fierce clashes were taking place south of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijani army reported that areas in the Terter and Gubadli regions of Azerbaijan were under bombardment by Armenia.
On Thursday, separatist leader Nagorno-Karabakh said the Azerbaijani army had reached within 5 km (about 3 miles) of a strategic town just south of the region’s capital, Stepanakert.
In a bleak acknowledgment of Azerbaijan’s interests, Arayik Harutyunyan urged people to mobilize all their resources against the attack on Shushi, a town on the main road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia .
“The Shushi controller controlled Nagorno-Karabakh,” said Harutyunyan, standing next to the Shushi Church that was badly damaged by the shelling of Azerbaijan earlier this month.
In Stepanakert, a group of people boarded a bus to Armenia to escape the fighting.
“I don’t want to leave. I wanted to stay at home in the village but they told us we should leave, ”said Valya Sogomonyan, who fled from her village in the Askeran region. “Azerbaijani people are shelling at our village. We are leaving our house and all our things behind. “
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev asserted that Azerbaijan has the right to reclaim its territory by force after three decades of ineffective international reconciliation. He said that Armenia must commit to withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh as a condition of a long truce.
The Azerbaijani army, which relied on the attack drones and long-range missile systems provided by Turkey, regained control of some areas on the edge of Nagorno-Karabakh and entered the territory. declared from the south.
According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 1,166 of their troops and 39 civilians were killed. The Azerbaijani authorities did not disclose their military damage, but said the fighting left at least 91 civilians dead and 400 injured.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week, according to information from Moscow, the actual death toll was significantly higher and nearly 5,000 people.
Writers of the Associated Press, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Aida Sultanova in London contributed to this report.