International mediators on Monday called on Azerbaijan to avoid a “further escalation” of the situation around Nagorno-Karabakh following fresh deadly fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.
The U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group also announced that the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents are ready to “resume political dialogue” as they completed their latest round of regional shuttle diplomacy aimed at kick-starting the Karabakh peace process.
In a joint statement issued after meeting Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku, they said they expressed “deep concern” over deadly truce violations along the Karabakh “line of contact” reported late last week. They said they “appealed to the leadership of Azerbaijan to avoid further escalation.”
“The Co-Chairs are sending the same message to the leadership of Armenia and de facto authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh,” added the statement. “They encouraged the Sides to consider measures that would reduce tensions on the Line of Contact and the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.”
The mediating troika met with President Serzh Sarkisian in Yerevan on June 10 before proceeding to Karabakh for similar talks with the Armenian-populated territory’s leadership.
On Friday evening, three Armenian soldiers died when Azerbaijani forces reportedly fired anti-tank grenades at their frontline position in eastern Karabakh. Another Armenian soldier was killed at a different frontline section on Saturday morning.
Earlier on Friday, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reported that one of its soldiers was shot dead by the Armenian side. It did not specify where the incident happened.
Reacting to the Armenian combat deaths, the Karabakh Armenian military promised “targeted and disproportionate” retaliatory measures against the Azerbaijani side. For its part, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry accused Baku of deliberately heightening tensions during the mediator’s latest tour of the conflict zone.
The ministry also protested against large-scale exercises which the Azerbaijani army began on Monday. The five-day drills will involve 23,000 troops and more than 100 tanks, according to the military authorities in Baku.
Meeting with the mediators, Aliyev blamed the Armenians for the latest escalation. He claimed that his troops gave an “adequate response” to Friday’s shooting of the Azerbaijani soldier.
In their statement, the envoys -- Richard Hoagland of the United States, Russia’s Igor Popov and France’s Stephane Visconti -- also urged both warring sides to “re-engage in negotiations on substance, in good faith and with political will.”
“The Presidents expressed their intention to resume political dialogue in an attempt to find a compromise solution for the most controversial issues of the settlement,” they said, adding that they will meet with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers soon to discuss “modalities of the forthcoming work.”
The statement did not specify whether Aliyev and Sarkisian are prepared to hold a face-to-face meeting in the coming weeks. The mediators have been pressing for such a meeting for the last several months. The two presidents most recently met in Saint Petersburg, Russia in June last year.