Armenians and Azerbaijanis have been urged to remain committed to their ceasefire agreement amid a global coronavirus pandemic that has led to closed international borders and complicated the mission of international observers.
In a statement issued on March 19, the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group noted the current suspension of monitoring exercises by the personal representative of the OSCE chairperson-in-office “due to the exceptional situation created by the spread of COVID-19.”
The co-chairs -- Andrew Schofer of the United States, Igor Popov of the Russian Federation and Stephane Visconti of France -- appealed to the sides “to reaffirm their commitment to observe the ceasefire strictly and refrain from any provocative action that could further raise tensions during this period.”
“Recognizing that the region’s medical resources should be dedicated exclusively to combating the spread of the virus and treating those affected, we urge the sides to exercise the greatest possible restraint to lessen the risk of escalation including by making maximum use of the existing direct communication links,” the international mediators said.
“Despite the heavy restrictions on international travel, the Co-Chairs will continue their mediation efforts without interruption, remaining in close contact with each other and with the sides,” the concluded.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh following a three-year war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000 people.
Despite the 1994 ceasefire, soldiers on both sides continue to be killed in sporadic border clashes.
Diplomatic efforts on settling the conflict have brought little progress in the past decades.
Armenia declared a 30-day national emergency over COVID-19 on March 16, restricting international travel and putting other limitations in place.
So far authorities in Yerevan have confirmed 136 coronavirus cases. Azerbaijan has reported 44 confirmed coronavirus cases, with one fatality.