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UN mission in Nagorno-Karabakh amid exodus of ethnic Armenians

Refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh region ride in a truck upon arrival in the border village of Kornidzor, Armenia, September 27, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

A United Nations mission has arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh to deal with a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians who have been fleeing the region since the Azerbaijani army launched an operation in September to take full control of the enclave.

Azerbaijani media reported on Sunday the mission was led by a senior aid official and was the first of its kind sent to the region in nearly three decades.

The arrival came as an estimate released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Sunday suggested that more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians had fled Nagorno-Karabakh to neighboring Armenia in recent days. 

It also came after the World Court, formally known as the International Court of Justice, ordered Azerbaijan in February to ensure free movement through the so-called Lachin corridor which connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.

Armenian authorities have called for a tougher World Court order that would force Azerbaijan to give the UN access to civilian establishments in Nagorno-Karabakh and lead to a full withdrawal of Azerbaijani forces from the region.

Areas surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh was liberated by Azerbaijan in a 2020 war with pro-Armenian forces.

The regional director of the WHO’s Regional Office for Europe said in a statement on Sunday the body will continue to send experts to Armenia to help people fleeing the conflict. “The challenges are truly enormous, and we’re there to do all we can,” said Hans Henri P Kluge.

At least 170 people were killed this week amid the exodus after an explosion hit a fuel depot just outside the Karabakh capital, known as Stepanakert by Armenia and Khankendi by Azerbaijan.

The Armenian government told Russia's RIA news agency late on Sunday the operation to relocate people willing to leave Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia was coming to an end.

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