YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces fought new clashes in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region on Thursday, before the United States, France and Russia were due to meet in Geneva to try to avert a wider war in the South Caucasus.
Azeri authorities have reported 30 civilian deaths since fighting broke out on Sept. 27 over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountain enclave which under international law belongs to Azerbaijan but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.
Azerbaijan also says 143 civilians have been wounded but has not disclosed information about its military casualties.
Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said the tactical situation had not changed significantly overnight, with artillery and rocket fire reported in some areas and the main administrative centre, Stepanakert, hit by shelling.
Nagorno-Karabakh, which broke away from Azerbaijan’s’ control as the Soviet Union collapsed, said on Wednesday its military death toll since September 27 was 320. It also says 19 civilians have been killed and many wounded.
France, the United States and Russia are co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group that mediates over Nagorno-Karabakh. They hope to persuade the warring sides to agree a ceasefire after the deadliest fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh in more than 25 years.
Armenia is not sending its foreign minister to the talks in Geneva, but Azerbaijan’s foreign minister is expected in attend.
French, US and Russian representatives are expected to meet the Armenian foreign minister in Moscow next Monday.
The fighting has raised international concern that Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia, could be sucked into the conflict.
The conflict is watched closely abroad partly because of Nagorno-Karabakh’s proximity to pipelines that carry Azeri oil and gas to international markets.
Reporting by Margarita Antidze, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Raissa Kasolowsky