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CAUCASUS CONFLICT

Heavy shelling and civilian casualties dash hopes for Karabakh ceasefire

Azerbaijan reported overnight shelling by Armenian forces on the country's second largest city, Ganja
Azerbaijan reported overnight shelling by Armenian forces on the country's second largest city, Ganja AFP

Hopes for the Russian-brokered ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan have been further dampened by further violence, with both sides accusing the other of intense shelling on civilian areas and escalating two weeks of fierce clashes. 

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Azerbaijan's foreign ministry claims that Saturday night shelling by Armenian forces of the country's second largest city, Ganja, had left seven people dead and 33 wounded including children, less than 24 hours after the halt to fighting was supposed to take effect.

One witness reported being woken by a huge blast that levelled an entire block of one- and two-storey houses on Sunday morning, leaving nine apartments destroyed.

The agreement to cease hostilities in order to exchange prisoners and the bodies of people killed in the past two weeks of fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region was approved by Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Russia-brokered talks in Moscow.

Mutual accusations of truce-breaking

The truce officially came into force at noon on Saturday but Armenia and Azerbaijan almost immediately accused each other of violations.

On Sunday, the defence ministry in the breakaway region insisted Armenian forces were respecting the humanitarian ceasefire and in turn accused Azerbaijan of shelling civilian-populated areas.

Claims that Armenian forces were responsible for shelling Ganja were "an absolute lie," it added.

The leader of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Arayik Harutyunyan, described the situation as calmer on Sunday, but warned that the truce was precarious.

Long-simmering disagreement

The latest round of fighting broke out last month, stemming from a long-simmering disagreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Karabakh.

The disputed territory is an ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, home to about 150,000 people, which broke from Azerbaijan's control in a war in the 1990s that killed some 30,000 people.

Its separatist government is strongly backed by Armenia, which . . . like Azerbaijan . . . gained independence after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The fighting is the most violent since the 1990s war, with more than 450 people reported dead, thousands forced to flee their homes and fears the struggle could escalate into all-out conflict involving Russia and Turkey.

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