BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Hopes of ending nearly a month of bloodshed in the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh were receding on Thursday as Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces fought new battles on the eve of talks in Washington.
Plans for US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia on Friday raised hopes this week that the two former Soviet republics would agree to end their deadliest fighting since the mid-1990s.
But those hopes have been dented by the continued heavy fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway territory which is inside Azerbaijan but controlled by ethnic Armenians, and by angry rhetoric from both sides.
Armenia’s prime minister said on Wednesday he could see no diplomatic resolution of the long-running conflict at this stage. Azerbaijan’s president said on Tuesday his country would reclaim Nagorno-Karabakh by force.
Hundreds of people have been killed since fighting flared on September 27, raising fears of a wider war drawing in Turkey and Russia and increasing concerns about the security of pipelines in Azerbaijan that carry Azeri gas and oil through the South Caucasus to world markets.
Russia has brokered two ceasefires since September 27 but neither has held.
Azerbaijan’s defense ministry reported fighting in several areas on Thursday, including territories close to the line of contact that divides the sides.
It also said Armenia had fired three ballistic missiles at three regions inside Azerbaijan but Armenia said this was “complete nonsense and a cynical lie.”
The Armenian defense ministry reported fighting in several areas, and Nagorno-Karabakh officials said the town of Martuni and nearby villages in the enclave had been shelled.