Cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh Broken
MOSCOW (AP) _ Armenian and Azerbaijani fighters today shattered an Iranian-brokered truce hours after it took effect, shelling towns in Nagorno-Karabakh and leaving new casualties, officials and news reports said.
The truce, called for 72 hours, took effect at 9 a.m. but was broken by midday as Azerbaijani forces fired on Armenian cities and Armenian militants attacked Azeri towns in the disputed enclave.
The brief cease-fire was among the few formal truces achieved in the 4- year-old conflict over the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly Christian Armenian region lying within Muslim Azerbaijan.
The truce was mediated over the telephone late Wednesday with the help of Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati of Iran, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency and the Azerbaijani Mission in Moscow.
More than 1,000 people have died in the fighting, which has defied settlement efforts by Soviet, Russian and Kazakh officials. Conflict between n Armenians and Azeris goes back centuries.
The truce agreement followed an escalation of assaults by both sides in and around the disputed region, including a report by Azerbaijan that an Armenian attack on a Nagorno-Karabakh town killed 100 people Wednesday. If confirmed, the attack on Khodzhaly would be the worst yet in the war.
This morning, Azerbaijani forces with tanks and helicopters attacked the mostly Armenian region of Askeran in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenian presidential aide Levon Dosikyan told The Associated Press.
He said Azerbaijani forces also shelled Stepanakert, the territory’s capital, leaving an unknown number of casualties.
From the other side, Azerbaijani presidential spokesman Vagif Rustamov claimed that Armenian forces attacked the town of Agdam today, using artillery and machine guns. He said Armenian forces also were attacking other Azeri towns in the enclave, including Khodzhaly, site of heavy fighting Tuesday and Wednesday.
The fighting erupted as Velayati continued his mediation effort. This afternoon, Velayati was heading toward Shusha, in Nagorno-Karabakh, according to another Azerbaijan presidential spokesman, Rakhim Agayev.
Iranian interest in the conflict follows its effort, and those by other Middle Eastern countries, to exercise more influence in Azerbaijan and other heavily Muslim former Soviet states. Velayati arrived in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, on Monday in an attempt to broker a cease-fire.
France on Wednesday proposed an emergency peace-keeping and humanitarian plan to ease the conflict. A French government spokesman, Jack Lang, said the plan would be presented to the European Community.