- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

GAPANLI, Azerbaijan (AP) - Azerbaijan forces and separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh agreed on a cease-fire Tuesday following three days of the heaviest fighting in the region since 1994, the Azeri defense ministry announced.

The operations of Azerbaijani and Karabakh troops “have been stopped,” the ministry said.

Senor Asratyan, a spokesman for the defense ministry of self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh, said the Karabakh forces were observing the deal despite some sporadic violations by Azerbaijani military.

An Associated Press reporter in the front-line area of Azerbaijan heard shelling Tuesday morning but no sounds of fighting in the afternoon.

Fighting erupted over the weekend in what had been a frozen conflict. Each side accused the other of provoking the escalation and using heavy weaponry.

In a much-anticipated mediation attempt, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be traveling to Azerbaijan’s capital on Thursday while Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will be in Armenia’s capital of Yerevan on the same day.

The outbreak of hostilities is the worst since a war that ended in 1994 and left Nagorno-Karabakh - officially a part of Azerbaijan - under the control of local ethnic Armenian forces and the Armenian military. Armenian forces also occupy several areas outside Karabakh proper.

The conflict is fueled by long-simmering tensions between Christian Armenians and mostly Muslim Azeris. Armenia, although supporting the separatists, insists its army does not engage in the fighting.

Earlier, the Azeri government said 16 Azerbaijani troops and one civilian were killed in two days of fighting as Karabakh militia continued to shell its positions Monday night.

The Karabakh military said Tuesday that 29 of its soldiers have been killed and another 101 wounded in fighting since the fighting erupted Saturday.

Each side has put enemy losses in the hundreds, but those claims couldn’t be independently verified.

Following the cease-fire announcement, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, in a call with the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, called for a “solid political process” toward a peace settlement in Karabakh.

In Terter, an Azerbaijan front line town over 300 kilometers (190 miles) west of the capital Baku, artillery salvos were heard late Monday.

“We’re used to fighting but I can hardly remember such intense shelling as in the past days,” Malahat Novruzova, a 50-year old resident, told The Associated Press.

The region’s chief, Mustagim Mammodov, said Tuesday that a 16-year-old girl was killed in shelling in the village of Hasangaya, southwest of Terter, the third civilian victim since the fighting broke out.

Gapanli, a village south of Terter, has been one of the hardest hit. Houses bear the marks of the recent shelling; metal doors are riddled with shrapnel, power lines are cut down, craters are seen in the yards. Some villagers left after the weekend’s fighting.

“We have sent our wives, children to a nearby village, but we will stay in this village till the end,” Elmar Abdullayev said. “This is our land. We will stand up for our rights till the end.”

An AP reporter had to leave the village, situated less than half a mile from the Karabakh positions, Monday afternoon when shelling resumed.

In Armenia, the defense ministry reported fighting spilling beyond Karabakh, to the northeast of the country’s border, saying their positions were shelled with large-caliber mortars late Monday, injuring one soldier.

___

Avet Demourian in Yerevan, Armenia and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.


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