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

International mediators urged Armenia and Azerbaijan on Tuesday to honour their new ceasefire agreement after recent fighting in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, and to negotiate a solution to their long-standing conflict.

"Reports on the cessation of hostilities are encouraging. Our immediate efforts must now focus on stabilizing the ceasefire and preventing any new escalation," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is chairing the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) this year.

A group of Russian, French and US diplomats who co-chair an OSCE mediation group set on resolving the long-standing conflict travelled to Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday, following consultations at OSCE headquarters in Vienna.

"The deterioration of the situation on the ground demonstrates the need for an immediate negotiation, under the auspices of the co-chairs, on a comprehensive settlement," the so-called Minsk Group said in a written statement.

Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on Tuesday to an immediate ceasefire after a recent surge of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, the TASS news agency reported, citing Armenia's Defence Ministry.

"Operations along the line of contact between the Azerbaijani and Armenian forces have been suspended from noon local time [0900 GMT] on April 5 upon the agreement of the parties," the Armenian ministry was quoted as saying.

Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry confirmed to the Interfax news agency that a ceasefire deal had been reached.

The two former Soviet republics have fought for decades over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, populated primarily by Armenian Christians but recognized by the United Nations as part of predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan.

Both countries have traded blame for sudden violence that reportedly erupted on Friday night. The fighting has been the most severe since a ceasefire was agreed in 1994.

OSCE monitors stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh have yet to confirm that the ceasefire is holding because they have not yet been able to reach the areas where fighting has taken place, according to an OSCE spokesman.

The eruption of violence has happened amid wider regional tensions.

Armenia is in a military alliance with Russia, while Azerbaijan enjoys close ties with Turkey. Relations between Russia and Turkey are currently tense as they back opposing sides in the Syrian civil war.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will visit Armenia on Thursday and Azerbaijan on Friday as part of efforts to restore peace in the region, the Interfax news agency reported, citing his spokeswoman.

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan had told OSCE representatives on Monday that the conflict has the potential to devolve into an all-out war.

Sargsyan was scheduled to visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday for talks expected to focus on the heightened regional tensions.

Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry said in a statement on its website Monday that 170 soldiers had died in the recent clashes.

According to Armenia's Defence Ministry, Azerbaijani troops started the fighting with an offensive involving tanks and artillery, to which Armenian forces responded by shooting down a combat helicopter and destroying several tanks and drones.

Azerbaijan denied the allegations, saying its soldiers were reacting to heavy attacks from the Armenian side.

Latest news

At least 20 injured in Serbian ammunition factory blast

At least 20 persons were injured in an explosion at the ammunition factory in the central Serbian city of Kragujevac on Tuesday, public broadcaster RTS said in the afternoon.

Germany calls in Turkish ambassador over detained reporter

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called the Turkish ambassador into the Foreign Ministry in Berlin on Tuesday for talks over German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, who was remanded in custody in Turkey.

Ukrainian minister wants to remove blockade of rebel-held east

Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Tuesday that he has requested permission for the police force to disband an activist-enforced blockade of the country's rebel-held east.

Israeli police nearly finished evicting West Bank settlement

Israeli police were nearly finished evicting an Israeli settlement in the West Bank slated for demolition on Tuesday as they pulled dozens of protesters from the last of nine houses.

Serbia to hold presidential election on April 2 - media

Serbia will hold a presidential election on April 2, and the vote will be formally called by Parliament Speaker Maja Gojkovic on March 2, media in Belgrade said on Tuesday.

India to remain fastest growing economy despite demonetization

India's economic growth fell to 7 per cent in the quarter ending December, taking a hit from the government's recent demonetization move, but the country remains the world's fastest growing major economy.

Investigating judge lifts precautionary measures on ex-Dinamo boss

A Zagreb County Court investigating judge on Tuesday lifted the precautionary measures that had led to the pre-trial detention of former Dinamo Zagreb Football Club manager Zdravko Mamic and if the decision becomes final, Mamic will also be paid back 14 million kuna (2 million euro) bail.

Erdogan lashes out at newspaper over report on military unrest

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday slammed Hurriyet newspaper over a report saying that military top brass was "restless" over criticisms against its leadership.

Serb ministers end boycott of Bosnian government

Serb ministers in the Bosnian Council of Ministers on Tuesday attended a session of the body, ending a boycott they began last week because of a request to revise an International Court of Justice ruling Serbia of genocide.

As Europe hardens its line on migration, children bear the brunt

The number of children arriving on their own in Europe doubled in 2016, and is set to increase this year. But the response by governments has not matched the need, pushing some into criminality and prostitution.

China considers subsidies for second child

The Chinese government is mulling paying parents to have a second baby, a year after it did away with its controversial one-child policy, state media reported Tuesday.

Business group urges Britain to delay Brexit if negotiations stall

The British government should push to extend Brexit negotiations if it is unable to agree a deal on leaving the European Union within two years, a business group said on Tuesday.

At least 1,500 child soldiers ensnared in Yemen war, UN says

Some 1,500 boys have been verified as child soldiers in Yemen, but the actual number of children who have been drawn into the war is probably far higher, a UN spokeswoman said Tuesday.

President says Croatia tolerant, marginal groups shouldn't be given attention

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic on Tuesday condemned the frequent incidents motivated by hate and intolerance and said marginal movements and isolated cases should not be given too much attention.

Austria identifies US-based Turk as source of cyberattacks

A string of cyberattacks against Austrian institutions has been linked to a Turkish suspect operating out of the US state of Kentucky, an Austrian newspaper reported Tuesday, citing an investigation by the army's intelligence agency.

Italy restores, returns IS-vandalized busts to Syria

Two ancient Roman busts, which were transported to Italy after being vandalized by the Islamic State extremist group in the Syrian city of Palmyra, have been restored and returned to Damascus, the Italian ministry of culture said Tuesday.

Norwegian state pension fund almost doubles return in 2016

The Norwegian state pension fund reported a return of almost 7 per cent in 2016 on the back of strong stock markets in the second half of the year, the Scandinavian country's central bank said Tuesday.

Croatian PM says sports needs to be given back to athletes

Commenting on an ultimatum the Bridge party made on Monday when it asked for a replacement of the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) leadership, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Tuesday that "sports needs to be given back to athletes."