The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet in Switzerland’s capital Bern on Saturday for talks which international mediators hope will ease tensions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, official Yerevan said on Thursday.
President Serzh Sarkisian’s office announced the date and venue of his meeting with Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev in a short statement. It indicated that the U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group will also be present at the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit.
The announcement was not immediately confirmed by Aliyev’s office or the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry.
The mediators have for months pressed for the summit amid growing ceasefire violations along heavily militarized “line of contact” around Karabakh and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. In a joint December 3 statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and France’s European Affairs Secretary Harlem Desir said they look forward to the upcoming Aliyev-Sarkisian meeting. They urged the two sides to “dispel any misperceptions that they are not serious about reaching a negotiated settlement.”
Sarkisian and Aliyev most recently met in Paris in October last year. Both leaders gave positive assessments of those talks.
However, tensions on the frontlines were reignited in November 2014 by the shooting down of an Armenian combat helicopter near Karabakh. And there was a renewed upsurge in deadly truce violations in January.
Fighting in the conflict zone, involving mortars and other heavy weapons, again intensified early this month and seems to be continuing unabated. Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov said on Tuesday that his forces will launch “even more devastating strikes against the enemy.”
The Azerbaijani military has reported two more combat casualties within its ranks since then. It said that one of those soldiers, Rashad Jafarzade, was killed by Armenian mortar fire late on Wednesday.
The Defense Ministry in Baku said on Thursday morning that Armenian forces breached the ceasefire regime with mortars, heavy machines and other automatic weapons for 84 times over the past 24 hours.
Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army, for its part, said Azerbaijani forces fired more than 260 mortar shells on its frontline positions on the night from Wednesday to Thursday. In a separate statement, it also claimed that Azerbaijani commando units attempted overnight unsuccessful incursions at three sections of “the line of contact” east of Karabakh.
“The retreating enemy left behind a number of military hardware pieces designed for special operations,” said the statement. “The [Karabakh] Defense Army suffered no losses in the resulting firefights.”