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US says humanitarian cease-fire to take effect in Nagorno-Karabakh

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (Sipa USA/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A humanitarian cease-fire will take effect on October 26 at 8 a.m. local time (0400 GMT/UTC) in the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a joint statement from the U.S. State Department and the two governments says.

The statement comes after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on October 23 met with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington in a new push for peace, and a meeting of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), formed to mediate the conflict and led by France, Russia, and the United States.

In a separate statement, the OSCE Minsk Group said its co-chairs and foreign ministers would meet again next week to discuss the issue.

The Minsk Group said its co-chairs and foreign ministers agreed to meet again in Geneva on October 29 “to discuss, reach agreement on, and begin implementation, in accordance with a timeline to be agreed upon, of all steps necessary to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”

“During their intensive discussions, the co-chairs and foreign ministers discussed implementing an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, possible parameters for monitoring the cease-fire, and initiating discussion of core substantive elements of a comprehensive solution,” the statement said.

But new fighting erupted on October 25 between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces as both sides blamed each other for blocking a peaceful settlement to the conflict.

Armenia accused the Azerbaijani military of shelling civilian settlements. Azerbaijan denied targeting civilians and said it was ready to implement a cease-fire, provided that Armenian forces withdrew from the battlefield.

The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan have hardened their positions in recent days despite two Russian-brokered cease-fires, which both collapsed soon after being agreed upon.

At least some 1,000 people have been reported killed since fighting erupted on September 27, raising fears of a wider conflict in the South Caucasus drawing in NATO member Turkey, which is an ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a military pact with Armenia.

Armenian forces and Azerbaijan’s military claim to have inflicted devastating losses on each other. But reports from the opposing sides are often contradictory and hard to verify.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on October 22 that Moscow believes nearly 5,000 people have been killed in the latest fighting.

Shortly before the Washington talks began, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated Ankara’s demand that Turkey become one of the Minsk Group co-chairs — a position that has also been put forward by Azerbaijan.

“Turkey believes it has just as much right as Russia to be involved here for peace,” he told reporters.

The Minsk Group hasn’t “yielded any result thus far,” Erdogan said after Friday Prayers. “Azerbaijan is making its rightful demand and saying that if Armenia proposes Russia, we propose Turkey.”

“I hope we [Turkey and Russia] will take successful steps in the future as well for a solution in Syria and Libya as well as on the Azerbaijan-Armenia issue and achieve a settlement in these matters,” Erdogan said.

The United States, France, and Russia have rebuffed calls from Turkey to play a more direct role, with Pompeo appearing last week to send a veiled message to Ankara suggesting it was inflaming a “dangerous” situation by arming and publicly backing Baku’s actions.