armenia army.jpg
Photograph: EPA/HAYK BAGHDASARYAN / PHOTOLURE

Azerbaijan's conflict with neighbouring Armenia over a long-disputed territory has "de-escalated" following a surge in fighting last weekend, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev said Friday.

Russia helped broker an immediate ceasefire between the former Soviet republics in the South Caucasus Mountains on Tuesday, after a sudden flare-up over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The region has a mostly Christian Armenian population but comprises about 4,500 square kilometers within predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan.

"I want to thank Russia for timely efforts on de-escalation. ... As a result of these efforts, the truce was restored," Aliyev said in comments carried by Russian state new agency TASS, during a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku.

There has been sporadic fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh for decades, but the recent violence was the worst since a 1994 ceasefire ended a six-year war over the territory.

"We see an overall de-escalation of the situation in recent days, although it is not always observed by the other side," Aliyev was quoted as saying, referring to the truce between the two nations.

Azerbaijan and Armenia have traded blame for the recent fighting as well as allegations of sporadic violations of the newly implemented ceasefire.

Medvedev told Aliyev that Russia hopes the new ceasefire will be long-lasting and the conflict will be definitely resolved through negotiations.

Ethnic Armenian forces have had de-facto control over Nagorno-Karabakh since the 1994 truce, although the United Nations officially recognizes the region as part of Azerbaijan.

Medvedev met with Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan on Thursday. Russia has reputedly closer ties with Armenia than Azerbaijan, although the former Soviet ruler maintains strong influence in the countries.

Medvedev assured Aliyev on Friday that Russia's relations with both countries are equally important.

Azerbaijan is also a close ally of Turkey, a major regional power. Russia and Turkey, which previously enjoyed warm economic and diplomatic relations, have had a falling-out in recent months as they support opposing sides in the Syrian civil war.

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