Armenians Attack Important Azerbaijani Town Near Enclave
BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) _ Armenian forces backed by tanks launched a fierce attack Sunday on a strategic town in eastern Azerbaijan. At least four civilians were killed in the fighting, which forced residents to flee the city.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijani leader Gaidar Aliev said he was seeking a cease-fire to end the five-year war over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly Armenian territory inside Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan, rocked by a bitter power struggle, has suffered several major defeats recently. It lost its last major foothold in the enclave last week.
The latest Armenian attacks appear aimed at ending Azerbaijan’s capability to strike from positions outside the enclave.
Azerbaijani television said the situation around the eastern town of Agdam was critical. Prime Minister Surat Huseynov urged soldiers and volunteers to meet in the city of Gyandzha, his stronghold, before heading to the front.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Asif Kerimov, deputy mayor of Agdam, said the Armenian attack continued Sunday evening.
″This is the most difficult we have seen so far,″ he said. ″They are about 500 to 600 meters (yards) from town. They are shelling residential areas and four women were killed. We are getting some troop reinforcements but very slowly and we have received no tanks.″
To encourage deserters to return to their units, Huseynov announced a brief amnesty for them.
Both Aliev and Huseynov are focusing attention on Nagorno-Karabakh after driving the legally elected president, Abulfaz Elcibey, from the capital Baku and seizing his powers.
The Azerbaijani defense ministry said Sunday that Armenian troops backed by tanks seized nine Azerbaijani villages and reached the outskirts of Agdam, a town several miles from Nagorno-Karabakh.
The ministry later said Azerbaijani forces had recaptured two villages.
Smoke was billowing from burning buildings on the edges of Agdam and people were fleeing the city for safety, said Andre Picot, a representative of the International Red Cross.
The Azerbaijani defense ministry said four women were killed in crossfire and several Azerbaijani soldiers were killed and wounded. There was no immediate word on any Armenian casualties.
Aliev said he had spoken several times with Armenian leaders in recent days to try to arrange a cease-fire.
″It’s been five years of war now and we can’t reach a cease-fire,″ Aliev said on Commonwealth television. ″I spoke with Yerevan (the Armenian capital) and asked for a cease-fire. I said first we need a cease-fire and then all problems will be solved step-by-step.″
But Aliev said Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosian said he had no control over the activities of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Aliev’s efforts to secure a cease-fire came ahead of a visit by the head of a European team seeking to negotiate an end to the war over Nagorno-Karabakh.