Russia on Wednesday urged the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to respect ceasefire following fresh exchanges of heavy artillery fire along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh.
“What is now happening in Nagorno-Karabakh confirms our point … that it is now necessary to display restraint and strive for the restoration of stability more than ever before,” Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said, according to the RIA Novosti agency.
The appeal came as the warring sides accused each other of continuing to violate the ceasefire with heavy artillery mainly at frontline sections in and around northeastern Karabakh.
Karabakh’s Defense Army said Azerbaijani forces fired overnight more than 550 rounds from mortars, howitzers and rocket systems at its frontline positions as well as the Karabakh town of Martakert and a nearby village. It said one of its soldiers, Hayk Minasian, was killed as a result.
“In order to neutralize the enemy’s offensive actions, the Defense Army’s frontline units took punitive actions and caused the enemy considerable losses of personnel and military hardware through targeted strikes,” it said in a statement.
A local government official in Martakert confirmed that the town was shelled for a second consecutive night. He said more than 20 homes there were damaged by Azerbaijani artillery fire.
Azerbaijan, meanwhile, accused the Armenian side of shelling several Azerbaijani villages close to the frontline. The head of its Tartar district bordering northeastern Karabakh told ANS television that an Armenian cannon shell struck a local power substation. As a consequence, eleven Azerbaijani settlements located in the area were left without electricity, he said.
According to the APA news agency, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accusing the Armenians of not honoring a Russian-brokered agreement that halted large-scale hostilities on April 5. Mammadyarov urged the international community to strongly criticize Armenia.
In another statement, the Karabakh army said that the Azerbaijani military deliberately deployed its artillery positions within civilian settlements in order to use them as “human shields” against Armenian retaliatory measures.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed the opposite. “If the enemy continues to shell civilians, we will strike military facilities located within their settlements,” a ministry spokesman was reported to stay.
Zakharova reiterated Moscow’s calls for the conflicting parties to “reduce military risks” on the frontlines. “Right now the key priority is to calm the situation down, prevent fresh aggression and bloodshed, and restore an atmosphere that would … bode well for the resumption of negotiations,” he told reporters.
Visiting Yerevan late last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the two sides should accept specific safeguards against ceasefire violations without “further delay.”
The safeguards proposed by U.S., Russian and French mediators include adoption of a mechanism for OSCE investigations of armed incidents on the “line of contact” and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. They have been repeatedly backed by Armenia but rejected by Azerbaijan.