Ethnic Armenians accuse Azeri forces of taking troops prisoner

Russian-brokered deal that halted a conflict between Azeri and Armenian forces over the region and its surroundings has come under strain.

An Azeri service member looks at the ancient Khodaafarin Bridge near the border with Iran in the area, which came under the control of Azerbaijan's troops following a military conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh against ethnic Armenian forces and a further signing of a ceasefire deal in Jabrayil district [Aziz Karimov/Reuters]
An Azeri service member looks at the ancient Khodaafarin Bridge near the border with Iran in the area, which came under the control of Azerbaijan's troops following a military conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh against ethnic Armenian forces and a further signing of a ceasefire deal in Jabrayil district [Aziz Karimov/Reuters]

Ethnic Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have accused Azeri forces of capturing several dozen of their troops, putting further strain on a ceasefire deal that brought an end to weeks-long fighting in the disputed region and its surroundings last month.

The Russian-brokered deal halted a six-week conflict between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces over the region and its surrounding areas, locking in territorial gains for Azerbaijan.

Moscow has deployed peacekeepers to police the ceasefire, but skirmishes broke out on Sunday, which Azerbaijan and Armenia each blamed on one another.

Four Azeri troops were reported killed in the fighting and six ethnic Armenians wounded.

In a new setback on Wednesday, Nagorno-Karabakh’s defence ministry said it had lost contact with several military positions late on Tuesday in areas that were supposed to remain under its control according to the November 10 ceasefire deal.

There was no comment by Azerbaijan’s defence ministry.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s ministry said it had failed to locate the troops despite carrying out search operations through the night.

Hours later, regional head Arayik Harutyunyan said the troops had been captured and accused Azerbaijan of a “provocation”.

“Several dozen servicemen were taken hostage by Azeri forces in the direction of Ktsaberd village, and the defence ministry is currently trying to figure out all the circumstances,” Harutyunyan said in a pre-written speech posted on his Facebook page.

Later, Armenia’s defence ministry said Russian peacekeepers had helped lead a number of Armenian troops out after they had been encircled by Azeri forces, the Interfax news agency reported.

It was not immediately clear if they were the same troops who had been reported captured.

Armenia and Azerbaijan said earlier this week they had started swapping prisoners captured during the conflict that erupted at the end of September and claimed at least 5,000 lives, including civilians.

Separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh claimed independence in a 1990s war that left approximately 30,000 people dead. No country, including Armenia, has recognised their claim to autonomy.

France, Russia and the United States brokered a ceasefire in 1994 but failed to bring about a lasting political resolution to the territorial impasse.

Source: News Agencies

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