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Azerbaijan, Karabakh separatists announce Russia-brokered ceasefire

Russian military vehicles move along a road towards the Karabakh region. (Photo by AP)

Azerbaijan and Armenian-backed separatists in Karabakh have agreed to a Russian proposal for a ceasefire, a day after Baku launched a military operation there.

Separatist Armenian forces in Karabakh said they had agreed to stop hostilities from 1 p.m. local time (0900 GMT) on Wednesday.

"With the mediation of the command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh, an agreement was reached on the complete cessation of hostilities from 13:00 on September 20, 2023."

The separatists said they had committed to a "full dismantlement" of their forces and the withdrawal of Armenian army units from the region. 

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry confirmed it had reached agreement on a ceasefire and halted its military operation. 

The ministry said Armenian forces in Karabakh had agreed to "lay down their weapons, abandon combat positions and military posts and completely disarm", and all weapons and heavy equipment were being handed over to the Azerbaijani army. 

Azerbaijan launched a military operation in Karabakh on Tuesday, almost three years after it went to war with Armenia over the disputed mountainous region. 

The new fighting erupted hours after Azerbaijan said four police officers and two civilians were killed in mine blasts in Karabakh, with authorities blaming separatists. 

Azerbaijan justified its operation citing "systematic" shelling by Armenian-backed forces and accusing them of carrying out "reconnaissance activities" and fortifying defensive positions, accusing separatists of "a high level of combat readiness".

Baku had demanded that the separatist political authorities in Karabakh, which is recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan, also disband before any talks are held about the future of the region, which Azerbaijan wants to fully integrate.

Both sides said talks on reintegrating the breakaway territory into the rest of Azerbaijan would be held on Thursday in the city of Yevlakh.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a televised address that Yerevan "did not participate in drafting" the Karabakh ceasefire deal, and insisted his country's army was not in the enclave. 

It was "very important" that the ceasefire hold, he added. 

Angry protesters had clashed with police in Armenia's capital Yerevan, calling on Pashinyan to resign, while the country's security council warned of large-scale unrest, vowing to take "effective measures" to maintain constitutional order.

More than 30 people were injured in the clashes, the health ministry said.

The latest flare-up comes three years after Azerbaijan recaptured swathes of territory in and around the region in a brief war that dealt a bitter defeat to Armenia.

Armenia said that at least 32 people had been killed and more than 200 wounded by the shelling in Karabakh as the latest onslaught from Azerbaijan saw artillery, aircraft and drone strikes rock the region.

Baku said it had taken control of more than 60 military positions during "localized anti-terrorist measures".

Russian peacekeepers and separatist forces evacuated thousands of civilians from the fighting. 

The announcement of the ceasefire came after Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev warned the military operation would continue until the separatists laid down their weapons, in the face of mounting international pressure to halt fighting.

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