Accusations range on between Armenia, Azerbaijan as German Merkel calls for 'immediate ceasefire' in Karabakh fighting

France urges international talks on Armenia-Azerbaijan clashes

Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other on Tuesday of firing into each other’s territory, far from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, as the worst spate of fighting since the 1990s raged for a third day and the civilian death toll mounted.

The forces of the two countries pounded each other with long range rockets and artillery in a new round of the decades-old conflict in the disputed region.

The fierce fighting, which continued for a third day on Tuesday, has killed dozens of soldiers and at least 11 civilians so far.

Dozens have been reported killed and hundreds wounded since the fierce clashes between Azerbaijan and its ethnic Armenian mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh broke out on Sunday in a new eruption of a decades-old conflict.

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said 10 civilians had been killed by Armenian shelling since Sunday. There was no official information about casualties among Azeri servicemen.

The Armenian defense ministry said an Armenian civilian bus in Vardenis — a town in Armenia at the border with Azerbaijan and far from Nagorno-Karabakh — caught fire after being hit by an Azeri drone, but no one appeared to be hurt. It said it was making further checks.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a breakaway region that is inside Azerbaijan but is run by ethnic Armenians and is supported by Armenia. It broke away from Azerbaijan in a war in the 1990s, but is not recognized by any country as an independent republic.

Any move to all-out war could drag in major regional powers Russia and Turkey. Moscow has a defense alliance with Armenia, which provides vital support to the enclave and is its lifeline to the outside world, while Ankara backs its own ethnic Turkic kin in Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged an immediate end to the fighting in the region of Nagorny Karabakh in phone calls with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, her spokesman said Tuesday. “The chancellor urgently called for an immediate cease-fire and a return to the negotiating table,” Steffen Seibert said.

Merkel spoke with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Monday and with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Tuesday, he added.

The so-called Minsk Group of mediators, led by France, Russia and the United States, “offers an appropriate forum” for dialogue, Merkel said in the calls.

The UN Security Council is due to hold emergency talks Tuesday behind closed doors on Nagorny Karabakh, diplomats said.

France has also said that it would call for talks among the ‘Minsk Group’ and mediates between Armenia and Azerbaijan – to try to resolve an escalating conflict between the two South Caucasus countries.

“We will trigger in the coming days a co-ordination of the Minsk Group to clear up what happened, who is responsible and find a way out,” an official at Macron’s office told Reuters on Tuesday.

Yerevan and Baku have been locked in a territorial dispute over the ethnic Armenian region of Nagorny Karabakh for decades, with deadly fighting flaring up last July and in 2016.

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