International mediators on Friday blamed both Armenia and Azerbaijan for the latest upsurge in truce violations on the border between the two warring nations which has left three Armenian civilians dead.
The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group said they are “unable to determine with certainty how the violence originated since each side accuses the other.” They voiced “serious concerns about Armenian and Azerbaijani forces using mortars and heavy weapons in and around civilian areas.”
“The use of such weapons represents an unacceptable escalation in the conflict,” the mediating troika said in a joint statement. “We express our deepest condolences to the families of the deceased and recognize the casualties on each side of the international border and Line of Contact [around Nagorno-Karabakh.]”
“We appeal to the sides in the strongest possible terms to avoid civilian casualties,” added the statement issued the day after three Armenian women were killed when their border villages came under heavy fire from nearby Azerbaijani army posts.
The Armenian military was quick to vow a strong retaliation for their deaths.
Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian expressed “outrage” at the Azerbaijani ceasefire violation when he met with the Minsk Group co-chairs in New York later on Thursday. Nalbandian reportedly told them that the “Azerbaijani provocation” is aimed at derailing his upcoming meeting in New York with Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry claimed the opposite on Friday in a statement cited by Azerbaijani media. It alleged that the Armenian military deliberately stationed its border posts in or around villages to make their residents a “target of retaliatory fire.” The ministry statement added that the root cause of the latest escalation is Armenia’s continuing “policy of occupation and aggression towards Azerbaijan.”
Despite the bitter accusations traded by the two sides, the mediators implied that Mammadyarov’s talks with Nalbandian will go ahead as planned this weekend. “We expect the Ministers to have a serious discussion on the escalation of violence and the issues surrounding a negotiated settlement,” read their statement. It said the parties should specifically try to work out a “mechanism” for international investigations of truce violations in the Karabakh conflict zone.
The Armenian government and Karabakh’s leadership support the idea of such investigations that has for years been advanced by the three mediating powers. They have also backed the mediators’ calls for the parties to withdraw their snipers from the frontlines. Official Baku has so far effectively rejected both confidence-building measures.