Armenian separatists battle Azerbaijan offensive in Karabakh

BAKU/YEREVAN (AFP) – Armenian separatists in the Nagorno-Karabakh region are resisting an Azerbaijani offensive, officials in Yerevan said, as heavy fighting entered a third day on Tuesday (Sept 29) ahead of UN Security Council talks on the crisis.

Yerevan and Baku have been locked in a territorial dispute over the ethnic Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh for decades, with deadly fighting flaring up last July and in 2016.

The region declared independence from Azerbaijan after a war in the early 1990s that claimed 30,000 lives.

It is not recognised by any country – including Armenia – and is still considered part of Azerbaijan by the international community.

“Armenian forces repelled Azerbaijani offensives at various sectors of the frontline and the enemy suffered serious losses in manpower,” Armenia’s Defence Ministry said.

“The Azerbaijani side launched massive artillery shelling of Armenian positions, preparing for a fresh attack,” ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan wrote on Facebook.

The Defence Ministry in Baku said “fierce fighting continued overnight as Armenia’s attempted counter-offensive to win back positions it lost to Azerbaijani forces was repelled”.

“An Armenian motorised column and an artillery unit was destroyed,” the ministry said.

In the early hours on Tuesday, “Azerbaijani forces continued an offensive on the city of Fizuli, destroying four enemy tanks, an armoured vehicle and killing ten troops.”

The UN Security Council was due to meet on Tuesday at 5pm for emergency talks on Karabakh, behind closed doors, diplomats told AFP.

The overall death toll rose to 95 on Monday, as Karabakh reported 84 military casualties and with 11 civilians killed in clashes: nine in Azerbaijan and two on the Armenian side.

Azerbaijan has not reported military casualties, but Armenian separatist officials have released footage from the battlefield showing what it said was the remains of Azerbaijani soldiers.

Fighting between majority-Muslim Azerbaijan and Christian Armenia could embroil regional players, Russia and Turkey.

Russia, which has a military alliance with Armenia and stations a permanent military base there, sells sophisticated weapons worth billions of dollars to both Baku and Yerevan.

Armenia has accused Turkey – which backs Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan – of meddling in the conflict.

With each side blaming the other for the flare-up that erupted Sunday, world leaders have urged calm as fears rise of a full-scale conflict.

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