GENEVA (Reuters) – The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan arrived in Geneva for talks on Friday to resolve a conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, where hundreds have been killed in more than a month of fighting.

A man drives a car past a damaged building following recent shelling in the town of Shushi (Shusha), in the course of a military conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, October 29, 2020. Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS

The ministers are set to meet envoys from France, Russia and the United States, co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group charged with resolving a conflict that has escalated in recent days, diplomats in the Swiss city told Reuters.

The foreign ministries of Armenia and Azerbaijan both confirmed that their respective ministers had arrived in Geneva.

Human rights groups called for an immediate halt to the use of banned weapons after confirming the use of cluster munitions by Armenia in an attack on the Azeri city of Barda.

The worst fighting in the South Caucasus for more than 25 years has raised fears of a wider war that could suck in Russia and Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan. It also poses a threat to pipelines carrying oil and gas from Azerbaijan to world markets.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Turkey, which has demanded a bigger role, should be among the countries involved in talks to end the fighting.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking to journalists on Friday, said peacekeeping troops would enter the conflict zone only with the agreement of both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but is populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians. About 30,000 people were killed in a 1991-94 war in the region.

Armenia, like Azerbaijan, regards the territory as part of its historic homeland and says the population there needs its protection. Azerbaijan rejects any solution that would leave Armenians in control of the enclave.

Three ceasefires have failed to halt the latest fighting, the most recent brokered in Washington last Sunday by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Confirming its participation in talks, the U.S. mission in Geneva said the United States “continues to call on Armenia and Azerbaijan to stop targeting civilian areas and to implement their agreed-upon commitments to a ceasefire.”

Sporadic fighting continued on Friday. Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said military positions and settlements in the Aghdere, Khojavend and Gubadli regions had come under fire overnight.

The ethnic Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh defence ministry said it had thwarted Azeri offensives and that shelling at residential areas of towns in the enclave had resumed.

Rights group Amnesty International and New York-based Human Rights Watch said they had independently confirmed the use of cluster munitions by Armenian forces in an attack on Barda on Wednesday. Azerbaijan has said 21 people were killed.

Both groups called for an immediate halt to the use of banned weapons. A separate report by Human Rights Watch on Oct. 23 found that Azerbaijan had used cluster munitions in at least four separate incidents.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan and Nailia Bagirova in Baku; Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

source: reuters.com

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