The United States said on Sunday that a new humanitarian ceasefire would take effect on Monday in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, although new fighting broke out between the two sides.
The latest ceasefire must take effect at 8 local time (12 noon EDT) on October 26, the US State Department and the governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia said in a joint statement.
“Congratulations to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who just agreed to a ceasefire with effect from midnight. Many lives will be saved,” US President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter.
The announcement came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held separate meetings with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington on Friday.
These meetings, together with the chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, were formed to mediate the conflict and were chaired by France, Russia and the United States, who described them as “intensive discussions” on the ceasefire and the beginning of talks on core elements of a comprehensive solution.
The Minsk group said its chairmen and foreign ministers had agreed to meet again in Geneva on 29 October.
A senior official expressed confidence that this ceasefire would hold. “US leadership with the support of Russia and France brings further hope that the ceasefire will lead to a lasting peace settlement,” the official said.
But the outbreak of new fighting on Sunday and the collapse of two former ceasefire mediated by Russia raised questions about the prospects for this new push to end the clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh, part of Azerbaijan populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
The fighting that erupted on September 27 over the disputed territory has escalated to the worst level since the 1990s, with approx. 30,000 people were killed.
Local officials in Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday accused Azeri forces of firing artillery at settlements in the Askeran and Martuni areas during the night. Azerbaijan said its positions had been attacked with handguns, mortar, tanks and howitzers.
Armenia accused Azeri forces of shelling civilian settlements. Baku denied killing civilians, saying it was ready to carry out a ceasefire provided Armenian forces withdrew from the battlefield.
The Defense Ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh region said on Sunday that it had registered a further 11 casualties among its forces, pushing the military death toll to 974.
Earlier Sunday, during a meeting with defense officials, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev accused Armenia of bombing civilian sites and launching two ballistic missiles at the city of Ganja.
Armenian President Armen Sarkissian accused Baku of being “aggressively stubborn and destructive”.
The world powers want to prevent a broader war that draws in Turkey, which has expressed strong support for Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia.
Disputes over the conflict have further strained relations between Ankara and its NATO allies, with Pompeo accusing Turkey of fueling the conflict by arming the Azeri side. Ankara denies that it has inflamed the conflict.
In comments reprinted by the news agency Armenpress, Sarkissian called on “global actors” to step in immediately to create a ceasefire, saying Russia was “a trusted and proactive mediator” between the opposing sides.
Aliyev said it was “very dangerous” for Armenia to want Russian military support in the conflict, and third parties should not get involved militarily.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he speaks to leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan several times a day by telephone and that he hopes the United States will help Moscow mediate a solution to the conflict.
About 30,000 people were killed in a 1991-94 war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenians consider the enclave part of their historic homeland; Azeris consider it illegally occupied land to be returned to their control.