Azerbaijan says 21 dead in Armenia attack near Nagorno-Karabakh
Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of killing 21 people and wounding dozens in a missile strike near the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenia on Wednesday immediately denied carrying out the attack, the second in two days that Azerbaijan says killed civilians in the Barda district close to the front line.
Yerevan also accused Azerbaijani forces of deadly new strikes on civilian areas of Nagorno-Karabakh, as both sides claim the other is targeting civilians after weeks of fierce clashes.
Meanwhile, Ria Novosti news agency reported that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan confirmed the deployment of Russian border guards along the Armenian border with Nagorno-Karabakh.
“There is nothing special about this,” Pashinyan said. “Russian border guards have been on the Armenia’s border with Turkey and Iran … Now, due to the latest developments, the Russian border guards are also on the southeastern and southwestern border of Armenia.”
Wednesday’s attacks came despite a US-brokered truce agreed at the weekend, the third ceasefire attempt in a row to collapse just minutes after it took effect.
Azerbaijani presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev said Armenian forces fired Smerch missiles against Barda, accusing them of using cluster munitions “to inflict excessive casualties among civilians”.
The prosecutor general’s office said the strike hit a densely populated area and a shopping district, killing 21 civilians and wounding at least 70.
Armenia’s defence ministry, meanwhile, confirmed that Azerbaijan seized the strategic town of Gubadli between the enclave and the Iranian border, an apparent military gain that could make a diplomatic solution more difficult.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians. About 30,000 people were killed in a 1991-94 war in the region.
Azerbaijan rejects any solution that would leave Armenians in control of the enclave, which it considers to be illegally occupied.
Armenia regards the territory as part of its historic homeland and says the population there needs its protection.
The Nagorno-Karabakh defence ministry has recorded 1,068 military deaths since fighting erupted on September 27.
Azerbaijan has not disclosed its military casualties. Russia has estimated as many as 5,000 deaths in total.