Armenia and Azerbaijan have promised to minimize ceasefire violations on their border and around Nagorno-Karabakh during the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, the U.S., Russian and French mediators said on Thursday.
“The sides stated their intention to strengthen observance of the ceasefire and avoid further escalation, particularly in light of the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi,” the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group said in a joint statement issued after their latest visit to Baku and Yerevan.
James Warlick, the U.S. co-chair, also separately announced the “good news” on his Twitter page. “The Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan recommitted to respecting the [Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire [especially] during Olympics,” he wrote.
The Sochi Olympics will officially open on Friday and end on February 23. They will take place several hundred kilometers away from the Karabakh conflict zone, where an uneasy truce has been in force for almost two decades.
Tensions on the frontline escalated on January 19 following what the Armenian side says was an Azerbaijani commando attack on its positions in northeastern Karabakh. Both warring sides reported a sharp rise in ceasefire violations in the following days. Two Armenian soldiers and at least as many Azerbaijani servicemen were killed in the fighting.
The upsurge in skirmishes dented renewed hopes for a Karabakh settlement that were fueled by last November’s meeting in Vienna of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. The mediators hoped to arrange another Armenian-Azerbaijani summit early this year. But they announced no agreements to that effect after their latest talks with Presidents Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sarkisian.
“No date yet for summit, but Armenia President emphasized continued dialogue towards peace in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Warlick tweeted after what he described as “good talks” with Sarkisian and other Armenian leaders held on Wednesday.
The joint statement by Warlick, Russia’s Igor Popov and France’s Jacques Faure said they stressed in Baku and Yerevan “the need for further progress on the substance of negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.” “They emphasized the need to continue negotiations at the highest level, as was agreed in Vienna,” it said.
“The Co-Chairs will continue consultations with the sides in the weeks ahead, in preparation for high level meetings,” added the statement.