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Thursday December 8th, 2022 10:13PM

Pelosi to visit Armenia as cease-fire with Azerbaijan holds

By The Associated Press
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YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Friday she plans to make a weekend visit to Armenia, where a cease-fire held for a second day after an outburst of fighting with neighboring Azerbaijan that killed more than 200 troops from both sides.

Pelosi told reporters in Berlin she would to travel to Armenia on Saturday with a delegation that includes Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who is of Armenian descent. Pelosi declined to give further details about the trip, saying that traveling members of the Congress “don’t like to be a target.”

“In any case, it is all about human rights and the respecting the dignity and worth of every person,” she said.

The Armenian Defense Ministry said the situation on the border with Azerbaijan has remained quiet since the cease-fire took effect at 8 p.m. Wednesday, and no violations were reported. The cease-fire declaration followed two days of heavy fighting that marked the largest outbreak of hostilities in nearly two years.

Armenia and Azerbaijan traded blame for the shelling, with Armenian authorities accusing Baku of unprovoked aggression and Azerbaijani officials saying their country was responding to Armenian attacks.

Speaking in parliament Friday, Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said at least 135 Armenian troops were killed in the fighting. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said Friday it had lost 77.

Edvard Asryan, the chief of the General Staff of the Armenian armed forces, told foreign ambassadors in Yerevan that Azerbaijani forces had forged 7.5 kilometers (4.7 miles) into Armenian territory near the town of Jermuk, a spa resort in southern Armenia.

Asryan said the Azerbaijani troops also went 1-2 kilometers (1 mile) into Armenian territory near the villages of Nerkin Hand in Syunik province and Shorja in Gegharkunik province. He noted that the Azerbaijani forces have remained in those areas.

The ex-Soviet countries have been locked in a decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994.

During a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan reclaimed broad swaths of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories held by Armenian forces. More than 6,700 people died in the fighting, which ended with a Russia-brokered peace agreement. Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers.

Pashinyan said his government has asked Russia for military support amid the latest fighting under a friendship treaty, and also requested assistance from the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, which has sent a team of top officials to Armenia.

Armen Grigoryan, the secretary of Armenia's Security Council, said the government in Yerevan was dissatisfied with the security alliance's response so far and expected it to offer “military and military-political assistance to protect Armenia's sovereignty.”

Pashinyan called Russian President Vladimir Putin when the hostilities erupted, and they had another call Friday to discuss the situation.

Yerevan’s plea for help has put the Kremlin in a precarious position as it has sought to maintain close relations with both Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base, and energy-rich Azerbaijan.

Speaking Friday at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in the Uzbekistan city of Samarkand, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev accused Armenia of “a large-scale military provocation” that derailed efforts to negotiate a peace treaty.

“The Armenian provocation has dealt a heavy blow to the process of normalizing ties between our countries,” Aliyev said.

During a meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the summit, Aliyev thanked him for helping to halt the fighting and said “the most important thing now is to save the process of normalization of ties from collapse.” Putin voiced satisfaction that the cease-fire has held, but noted the situation remained tense.

Asked by reporters whether the latest hostilities became possible because Moscow has been too busy with Ukraine, Putin dismissed the claim, emphasizing that the cease-fire was brokered by Russia.

“Mostly thanks to Russia's influence, this conflict has been localized,” he said.

Putin also held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country has strongly backed Azerbaijan, but neither of them mentioned the fighting in their opening remarks.

Pashinyan told lawmakers earlier this week that Armenia was ready to recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in a future peace treaty, provided that it relinquishes control of areas in Armenia its forces have seized.

The opposition saw that as a sign of Pashinyan’s readiness to submit to Azerbaijani demands and recognize Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Thousands of angry protesters have besieged the government’s headquarters and parliament during the past two days, accusing Pashinyan of treason. Protests were also held in other Armenian cities.

___

Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.

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