Armenia and Azerbaijan failed to reach agreement on a fresh ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during talks in Geneva on Friday, but did agree to measures to defuse tensions, including vowing not to target civilians, mediators said.
Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov sat down for face-to-face talks aimed at reining in more than a month of clashes in the disputed region that have killed more than a thousand people.
Mediators from France, Russia and the US — known as the “Minsk Group” — said in a statement they had urged the sides to fully implement a previously agreed ceasefire.
Both sides, the statement said, had “engaged in an open and substantive exchange of views aimed at clarifying their negotiating positions” on sticking points in the ceasefire agreement reached in Moscow on October 10.
That and two subsequent ceasefire agreements — the most recent one negotiated in Washington less than a week ago — have failed to halt the bloodshed.
While Friday's statement made no mention of fresh ceasefire commitments, it said the sides had “agreed to take a number of steps on an urgent basis”.
They had committed to “not deliberately target civilian populations or non-military objects in accordance with international humanitarian law,” it said.
They had also agreed to “actively engage in the implementation of the recovery and exchange of remains on the battlefield”.
Possible prisoner exchanges
Both sides also said that within a week they would deliver lists of currently detained war prisoners to the Red Cross “for the purposes of providing access and eventual exchange”.
And finally they committed to provide written comments and questions related to discussions around introducing mechanisms to verify if a ceasefire was being upheld — viewed as a key priority in the talks.
“The co-chairs will continue working with the sides intensively to find a peaceful settlement of the conflict,” Friday's statement said.
The new round of diplomatic talks had initially been set to take place in Geneva on Thursday, but they were postponed for a day amid a new spike in fighting.
“Every day of delay in achieving a functional ceasefire increases the likelihood of a dramatic escalation of civilian losses in this tragedy,” tweeted Carey Cavanaugh, a former US ambassador and co-chair of the OSCE Minsk group.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a bitter conflict over Karabakh since Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control of the mountainous province in a 1990s war that left 30,000 people dead.
Karabakh's self-declared independence has not been recognised internationally, even by Armenia, and it remains a part of Azerbaijan under international law.
The current clashes broke out on September 27 and fighting has persisted despite the repeated international attempts to secure a ceasefire.
Fighting has intensified in recent days, including with renewed shelling and rocket attacks on civilian areas.
Earlier this week Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said he was not against the new round of talks in Geneva but appeared to downplay their significance. “There have been a lot of meaningless meetings over the past 28 years,” he said.
More than 1,200 people from both sides have been reported dead since the fighting began, and thousands forced from their homes.
Azerbaijan has not released military casualty figures and the death toll is believed to be higher, with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying last week close to 5,000 people had been killed.