Nagorno-Karabakh truce under severe strain as both sides allege violations

BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – A Russian-brokered humanitarian ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh was under severe strain on Sunday a day after it was agreed, with Azerbaijan and Armenia accusing each other of serious violations and crimes against civilians.

The ceasefire, clinched after marathon talks in Moscow advocated by President Vladimir Putin, was meant to halt fighting to allow ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azeri forces to swap prisoners and war dead.

The Moscow talks were the first diplomatic contact between the two since fighting over the mountainous enclave erupted on Sept. 27, killing hundreds of people. The enclave is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.

Both sides accused one another of breaking the ceasefire almost immediately on Saturday, and Azerbaijan gave the impression in public comments from top officials that it saw it as only a brief and temporary breathing space anyway.

On Sunday, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of heavily shelling a residential area in Ganja, its second largest city, in the early hours of the morning, and of hitting an apartment building.

The Azeri Prosecutor General’s Office said five people had been killed and 28 wounded in the attack, which it said violated the norms of the Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians.

The Armenian defence ministry called the Azeri allegations “an absolute lie” and accused Azerbaijan of continuing to shell populated areas inside Karabakh, including Stepanakert, the region’s biggest city.

A Reuters photographer in Ganja saw rescue workers carrying one dead person from the ruins of a large apartment building on Sunday morning. The structure had been almost levelled. An excavator was clearing the debris.

Buildings and cars in the immediate vicinity had also been severely damaged.

Reuters could not independently verify Azeri assertions about the number of fatalities.

Azerbaijan accused Armenia of also launching an unsuccessful rocket attack on an Azeri hydro-electric power station in Mingachevir. Ethnic Armenian forces in Karabakh denied the assertion.

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