New clashes dash hopes of end to fighting on Azerbaijan-Armenia border

A police officer guards a yard with an unexploded shell, next to a house, which locals say was damaged during recent shelling by Armenian forces, Agdam, Azerbaijan, July 15, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 July 2020

New clashes dash hopes of end to fighting on Azerbaijan-Armenia border

  • At least 16 people on both sides have been killed since clashes erupted on Sunday between the ex-Soviet republics
  • The fighting is centered on the northern regions of Tovuz in Azerbaijan and Tavush in Armenia

YEREVAN, Armenia: New clashes erupted Thursday on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia following a day-long lull, dashing hopes of a rapid end to a flare-up in fighting.
At least 16 people on both sides have been killed since clashes erupted on Sunday between the ex-Soviet republics, who have been locked for decades in a conflict over Azerbaijan’s southwestern separatist region of Nagorny Karabakh.
Ethnic Armenian separatists seized the territory in a 1990s war that claimed 30,000 lives, though the recent fighting broke out on a section of the two countries’ shared border far from Karabakh.
The fighting is centered on the northern regions of Tovuz in Azerbaijan and Tavush in Armenia, and local villagers told AFP they feared for their lives.
“An artillery shell hit our yard, 10 meters from the house,” resident Shain Abiyev said in the Azerbaijani village of Dondar Quscu near the border.
“Fortunately my family was not at home, but if they had been in the house there would have been a tragedy.”
The clashes broke out on Sunday, with the two sides exchanging artillery and mortar fire for three days until a pause on Wednesday after international calls for restraint.
The two countries’ defense ministries said shelling had resumed in the early hours of Thursday, with both sides blaming each other.
Armenian defense ministry spokeswoman Sushan Stepanyan said Azerbaijani forces were “shelling Armenian villages with mortars and howitzers” in Tavush.
Armenian forces responded and “destroyed the enemy’s tank and artillery positions from which they were shelling Armenian villages,” Stepanyan said.
“We are in control of the situation,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told a cabinet meeting, saying there were “killed and wounded among the enemy” but “no losses among our servicemen or civilians.”
The defense ministry in Baku blamed Armenian forces for the renewed fighting, saying in a statement that clashes started in the north after “Armenians shelled Azerbaijani villages with large-calibre weapons.”
The fighting that broke out last week has prompted calls for an immediate de-escalation from the United States, the European Union and regional powerbroker Russia. Turkey has spoken out in support of its ally Azerbaijan.
Eleven Azerbaijani troops and one civilian have been killed in the clashes, as well as four Armenian soldiers, according to the two countries.
The last time major fighting erupted between the two was in April 2016, with days of fierce combat in Karabakh that claimed more than 100 lives.
It is unclear what ignited this summer’s flare-up, but analysts say it could have been a small incident like a cross-border shooting that quickly escalated.
Olesya Vartanyan, senior South Caucasus analyst for the International Crisis Group, said a major confrontation would draw in big regional players.
“Any direct attack at the territory of Armenia or Azerbaijan can provoke — with a high probability — an intervention of one of the regional powers, particularly Turkey or Russia,” she told AFP.
But she said it seemed unlikely the crisis would escalate, as neither side has territorial claims on northern border areas and the fighting had not spread to Karabakh itself.
Talks to resolve the Karabakh dispute — one of the worst conflicts to emerge from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union — have been largely stalled since a 1994 cease-fire agreement.
France, Russia and the United States have mediated peace efforts as the “Minsk Group,” but the last big push for a peace deal collapsed in 2010.
Flush from years of oil revenues, energy-rich Azerbaijan has invested heavily in its military and repeatedly vowed to retake Karabakh by force. The Turkic-speaking country is firmly backed by main ally Ankara.
Armenia has said it will defend Karabakh, which has declared its independence but relies heavily on Yerevan.
Moscow is also a key military ally of Armenia and has a base in the country, though it has supplied both Baku and Yerevan with sophisticated weapons.


Thousands killed in Ethiopia’s conflict, Tigray side asserts

Updated 04 December 2020

Thousands killed in Ethiopia’s conflict, Tigray side asserts

NAIROBI, Kenya: Several thousand combatants have been killed in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, an official with the fugitive regional government has asserted, although claims remain difficult to verify a month after the fighting erupted between Ethiopian and regional forces.
Getachew Reda, a senior adviser to the Tigray leader, in an interview with Tigray TV aired Thursday urged young people and others in the region to “rise and deploy to battle in tens of thousands” days after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed over the weekend declared victory.
With the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front on the run in rugged territory, fears of a drawn-out conflict continue. But with communications and transport links still largely severed to the region of 6 million people, it’s difficult to know the situation on the ground, including the extent of popular support for the TPLF and the number of people killed.
“Our capacity to resist ultimately depends on the support we get from our people,” Getachew said. “It is possible to have the scenario where we stop everything and turn all the people into soldiers.”
He didn’t say how many people are actively fighting but said “our army is doing amazing things with limited numbers,” and he claimed there had been tens of thousands of deaths among Ethiopian forces and those from neighboring Eritrea, which the TPLF insists is also involved. Ethiopia’s government denies that.
Getachew also acknowledged casualties on the TPLF side but didn’t say how many.
Ethiopian forces over the weekend announced they had “full control” of the Tigray capital, Mekele, a city of a half-million people. Getachew said their side had made a “strategic withdrawal” from the city to minimize destruction.
It is not clear how many people were killed as Ethiopian forces moved in on Mekele, but the International Committee of the Red Cross over the weekend said the city’s largest hospital had run out of body bags and staff suspended other services to focus on the wounded.
Ethiopian government spokesman Redwan Hussein didn’t immediately respond to a question about the current estimated death toll in the conflict.