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Tuesday June 15th, 2021 9:40AM

Tensions mount as Armenia, Azerbaijan continue fighting

By The Associated Press
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YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Armenian and Azerbaijani forces accused each other of attacks on their territory Tuesday, as fighting over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh continued for a third straight day following the reigniting of a decades-old conflict.

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said Armenian forces shelled the Dashkesan region in Azerbaijan, while Armenian officials said Azeri forces opened fire on a military unit in the Armenian town of Vardenis, setting a bus on fire and killing one civilian.

Armenia's Foreign Ministry “completely” denied reports of shelling the Dashkesan region and said in a statement that with those reports Azerbaijan was laying the groundwork for “expanding the geography of hostilities, including the aggression against the Republic of Armenia."

The previous two days of fighting killed dozens and left scores wounded. The Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Ministry reported 84 servicemen killed so far. Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, said Tuesday that 10 civilians were killed on its side, but he didn't offer any details on the country's military casualties.

The heavy fighting broke out Sunday in Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian government since 1994 at the end of a separatist war.

The region in the Caucasus Mountains of about 4,400 square kilometers (1,700 square miles), or about the size of the U.S. state of Delaware, is 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Armenian border. Soldiers backed by Armenia also occupy some Azerbaijani territory outside the region.

The renewed fighting prompted calls to end the hostilities from around the world.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pushed for “an immediate ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table" in phone calls with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, her office said Tuesday.

She told the two leaders that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe offers an appropriate forum for talks and that the two countries’ neighbors “should contribute to the peaceful solution,” Seibert said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a visit to Greece that “both sides must stop the violence" and work "to return to substantive negotiations as quickly as possible.”

Turkey is supporting Azerbaijan in the conflict, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling on Armenia to immediately withdraw from the separatist region.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday that Turkey is “by Azerbaijan’s side on the field and at the (negotiating) table.”

Cavusoglu told reporters that the international community must defend Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in the same way it defended the integrity of Ukraine and Georgia.

“They are holding Azerbaijan, whose territories have been occupied, on an equal footing with Armenia. This is a wrong and unjust approach," Cavusoglu said after a visit to Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Ankara.

Russia, which along with France and the United States co-chairs the Minsk group set up in 1992 to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, urged every country to help facilitate a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

“We call on all countries, especially our partners such as Turkey, to do everything to convince the opposing parties to cease fire and return to peacefully resolving the conflict by politico-diplomatic means,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.

Daria Litvinova in Moscow, Geir Moulson on Berlin, Suzan Fraser in Ankara and Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed to this report.

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