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Russia: Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh begin surrendering weapons

A view of the border crossing from the outskirts of the village of Tegh in Armenia on September 21, 2023 shows an Armenian border guard post next to an Azerbaijani border guard post on the road dubbed the Lachin Corridor leading from Armenia to Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh region. (Photo by Reuters)

Russia has announced that Armenian troops fighting against Baku’s rule in Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region started to give up their weapons to the Russian peacekeepers following a Moscow-mediated ceasefire.

"The armed formations of Karabakh have begun handing over weapons and military equipment under the control of Russian peacekeepers," Russia's defense ministry, which has around 2,000 peacekeeping troops in Karabakh, said on Saturday.

Russia's defense ministry said so far some 800 guns, 5,000 rounds of munitions and six armored vehicles were handed over to the Russian peacekeepers by the Armenian troops.

Representatives of the Armenian secessionists confirmed that they are in peace talks with the Baku government under the supervision of Moscow.

The two sides aim to organize the exit of the secessionist troops in the enclave to Armenia, and the return of civilians displaced by the fighting to the enclave.

The fighting flared up on Tuesday after Azerbaijan launched a military operation in the region, accusing the Armenian-backed troops there of "systematic" shelling, "reconnaissance activities," fortification of defensive positions, and "high-level of combat readiness."

Later, however, the fighting pro-separation Armenian forces reported that the mediation efforts commenced by the command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in the region had resulted in both sides agreeing to the ceasefire.

However, Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said the "situation remains tense" in the disputed territory despite the Russian-brokered ceasefire largely in place. "There is a hope for some positive dynamics," he told a cabinet meeting Friday.

Pashinyan has blamed the Russian peacekeepers stationed around Karabakh for failing to stop Azerbaijan's Tuesday offensive. However, six Russian peacekeepers were killed in the fighting.

"For a sustainable resolution to the conflict, the rights and security of the population in Karabakh must be guaranteed," his spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said in a statement.

The Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, with some 120,000 ethnic Armenians living in it, is located in Azerbaijan and linked to Armenia by a road dubbed the Lachin Corridor.

The 4,400 sq km region is disputed between Armenia and Azerbaijan; however, Baku is internationally recognized as having sovereignty over the territory.

Peace talks between the two fighting sides over Nagorno-Karabakh, which both want full control of, are scheduled on Thursday in the Azerbaijani town of Yevlakh.

In the meantime, as international pressure mounts on Azerbaijan to re-open the Lachin Corridor, Baku said it had started sending in urgently needed aid to the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave on Friday.

Russia said it had delivered more than 50 tonnes of food and other aid to the enclave. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had supplied 28,000 diapers as well as blankets and fuel and said it would send more.

However, an AFP reporter in the main city of Stepanakert said food, water, medicine and fuel were scarce and displaced people had arrived in the city from surrounding villages.

Also, Armenians reported that they were hiding in their basements as the Azerbaijani forces set camp on the outskirts of the city.

Azerbaijan launched its military offensive almost three years after it went to war with Armenia over the disputed forested 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. 

Baku had demanded that the separatist political authorities in Karabakh disband before any talks are held about the future of the region.

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