Britain has expressed dismay over the unravelling of a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed mountainous region in the South Caucasus between the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
“The United Kingdom welcomed the announcement of a humanitarian ceasefire and we are dismayed to see that it is not being respected,” said Nicola Murray, deputy head of the British delegation to the Permanent Council of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), on Friday.
“We condemn the reported continued shelling of civilian areas and we are alarmed by further reports of civilian casualties,” she said in a statement.
Fighting erupted on Sept. 27 between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as Azeri territory but is under the control of ethnic Armenians.
It has become the worst outbreak of violence in the South Caucasus since the two countries went to war over the mountain enclave in the 1990s.
A ceasefire, brokered by Russia, came into effect at midday on Oct. 10. But within minutes, both sides started accusing each other of breaking the truce.
Armenian and Azeri forces fought new clashes on Friday. Both sides accused the other of launching attacks and each said it had the upper hand.
According to the defence ministry of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, 633 of its servicemen have been killed since the conflict broke out.
Azerbaijan does not disclose military casualties, but its Azeri prosecutor-general’s office said 47 Azeri civilians have been killed and 222 wounded.
The UK has offered “condolences to the families of those who have lost loved ones” and is “particularly concerned about the impact on children,” Murray said in her statement.
“The United Kingdom urges all external parties and friends of both States to redouble their efforts in support of an end to hostilities and to refrain from taking actions that risk further exacerbating the crisis.”
Murray reiterated the UK’s support for the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs in their role in mediating negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by Russia, France, and the United States, was set up by the OSCE in 1992 to resolve the conflict.
In a statement issued on Oct. 13, the Minsk Group co-chairs noted “with alarm” the continuing violence despite the ceasefire having come into effect.
“The Co-Chairs call on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to take immediate steps to execute in full the obligations of the sides according to the October 10 Moscow statement, in order to prevent catastrophic consequences for the region,” the statement said.
Reuters contributed to this report.