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Azerbaijan, Armenia Decline Peace Talks09/30 06:11

   

   YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) -- Leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia brushed off the 
suggestion of peace talks Tuesday, accusing each other of obstructing 
negotiations over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, with dozens 
killed and injured in three days of heavy fighting.

   In the latest incident, Armenia said one of its warplanes was shot down by a 
fighter jet from Azerbaijan's ally Turkey, killing the pilot, in what would be 
a major escalation of the violence. Both Turkey and Azerbaijan denied it.

   The international community is calling for talks to end the decades-old 
conflict between the two former Soviet republics in the Caucasus Mountains 
region following a flareup of violence this week. It centers on 
Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the 
control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian government since 1994 
at the end of a separatist war.

   The U.N. Security Council called on Armenia and Azerbaijan Tuesday evening 
to immediately halt the fighting and urgently resume talks without 
preconditions. The U.N.'s most powerful body strongly condemned the use of 
force and backed Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' earlier call to stop the 
fighting, deescalate tensions, and resume talks "without delay."

   Azerbaijani President Ilkham Aliyev told Russian state TV channel Rossia 1 
that Baku is committed to negotiating a resolution but that Armenia is 
obstructing the process.

   "The Armenian prime minister publicly declares that Karabakh is (part of) 
Armenia, period. In this case, what kind of negotiating process can we talk 
about?" Aliev said. He added that according to principles brokered by the Minsk 
group, which was set up in 1992 by the Organization for Security and 
Cooperation in Europe to resolve the conflict, "territories around the former 
Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region should be transferred to Azerbaijan."

   Aliev noted that if Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan says "that 
Karabakh is Armenia and that we should negotiate with the so-called puppet 
regime of Nagorno-Karabakh, (he is) trying to break the format of negotiations 
that has existed for 20 years."

   Pashinyan, in turn, told the broadcaster that "it is very hard to talk about 
negotiations ... when specific military operations are underway." He said there 
is no military solution to the conflict and called for a compromise.

   But first, Azerbaijan must "immediately end (its) aggression towards 
Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia," Pashinyan said. "We all perceive this as an 
existential threat to our nation, we basically perceive it as a war that was 
declared to the Armenian people, and our people are now simply forced to use 
the right for self-defense."

   Since Sunday, the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Ministry reported 84 servicemen 
were killed. Aliyev said 11 civilians were killed on its side, although he 
didn't detail the country's military casualties.

   Both countries accused each other of firing into their territory outside of 
the Nagorno-Karabakh area on Tuesday.

   The separatist region of about 4,400 square kilometers (1,700 square miles), 
or about the size of the U.S. state of Delaware, is 50 kilometers (30 miles) 
from the Armenian border. Soldiers backed by Armenia also occupy some 
Azerbaijani territory outside the region.

   Armenia also alleged that Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan, was involved. 
"Turkey, according to our information, looks for an excuse for a broader 
involvement in this conflict," Pashinyan said.

   The Armenian military said an SU-25 from its air force was shot down in 
Armenian airspace by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet that took off from Azerbaijan, 
and the pilot was killed.

   The allegation of downing the jet was "absolutely untrue," said Fahrettin 
Altun, communications director for Turkey's president. Azerbaijani officials 
called it "another fantasy of the Armenian military propaganda machine."

   Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Armenia to withdraw immediately 
from the separatist region, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said 
Turkey is "by Azerbaijan's side on the field and at the (negotiating) table."

   Armenian officials said that Turkey, a NATO member, is supplying Azerbaijan 
with fighters from Syria and weapons, including F-16 fighter jets. Both 
Azerbaijan and Turkey deny it.

   Earlier in the day, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said Armenian forces 
shelled the Dashkesan region in Azerbaijan. Armenian officials said Azerbaijani 
forces opened fire on a military unit in the Armenian town of Vardenis, setting 
a bus on fire and killing one civilian.

   Armenia's Foreign Ministry denied shelling the region and said the reports 
were laying the groundwork for Azerbaijan "expanding the geography of 
hostilities, including the aggression against the Republic of Armenia."

   German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pushed for "an immediate cease-fire and 
a return to the negotiating table" in phone calls with the leaders of both 
countries, her office said.

   She told them the OSCE offers an appropriate forum for talks and that the 
two countries' neighbors "should contribute to the peaceful solution," said her 
spokesman, Steffen Seibert.

   U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a visit to Greece that "both 
sides must stop the violence" and work "to return to substantive negotiations 
as quickly as possible."

   Russia, which along with France and the United States co-chairs the Minsk 
group, urged every country to help facilitate a peaceful resolution of the 
conflict.

   "We call on all countries, especially our partners such as Turkey, to do 
everything to convince the opposing parties to cease fire and return to 
peacefully resolving the conflict by politico-diplomatic means," Kremlin 
spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.

   Putin spoke to Pashinyan on Tuesday for the second time in three days, 
urging de-escalation and, like the other leaders, an immediate cease-fire.

 
 
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