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Armenia, Azerbaijan agree on Russian-mediated ceasefire after deadly border clashes

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
In this file photo taken late on November 19, 2020, Armenian soldiers patrol at the check point outside Agdam in Nagorno-Karabakh to let last vehicles leave the region as the territory is due to be returned to Azerbaijan as stipulated in a Moscow-brokered peace deal signed by Armenia and Azerbaijan on November 9. (Photo by AFP)

Armenia has announced a Russian-mediated ceasefire on its eastern border with Azerbaijan following renewed deadly clashes between the two countries.

Armenia's Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that Baku and Yerevan agreed on the truce after Russia urged them to step back from confrontation in the wake of the latest border flare-up that claimed more than a dozen lives on the Armenian side.

"In accordance with an agreement mediated by the Russian side, fire ceased on the eastern section of the Armenian-Azeri border, and the situation is relatively stable," the ministry said in a statement.

The announcement was made hours after Armenia reported the death of 15 soldiers in the latest escalation, which took place a year after the Caucasus arch-foes fought a war over the disputed mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Armenian Defense Ministry earlier said its troops had come under heavy fire from Azerbaijan and that 12 of its servicemen were captured, while two combat positions near the border with Azerbaijan were lost.

On the other side, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of provoking the clash and said two of its soldiers had been wounded. Baku said Armenian forces were shelling Azeri army positions with artillery and mortar fire and added that it had destroyed some Armenian military hardware.

Russian media said on Tuesday that Armenia had asked Moscow to help defend its territorial sovereignty against attacks by Azerbaijani forces under the 1997 Collective Security Treaty Organization pact, which obliges Moscow to protect it in the event of a foreign invasion.

The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had earlier in the day discussed the situation on the border by phone and agreed to "continue contacts" on the matter.

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held phone conversations with counterparts in Baku and Yerevan and pledged Moscow's help in easing tensions, according to Interfax news agency.

UN calls for 'restraint' after border clashes

Before the ceasefire was announced, the United Nations called on the warring sides in the Caucasus region to exercise restraint and address the issue through dialogue.

"We urge all sides to exercise restraint... and address any related concerns peacefully through dialogue," said Farhan Haq, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

"We want to avoid any return to the sort of escalation we had earlier," Haq added.

Meanwhile, the French foreign ministry said it was very concerned about the deteriorating situation and called on both countries to respect a ceasefire.

Tensions between Yerevan and Baku remain high a year after the arch-foes fought a war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. The six-week conflict, which claimed more than 6,500 lives on both sides, ended last November with a Russian-brokered deal that left Azerbaijan largely in control of the territory.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has been populated by ethnic Armenians. Russia has deployed 1,960 peacekeepers to the region for an initial five-year period. Since the truce, the two sides have accused each other of breaching the peace deal.

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