Azerbaijan and the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh said on Tuesday they were halting hostilities after four days of intense fighting between them that had sparked fears the conflict could spiral into all-out war.
Reuters was not immediately able to verify whether the fighting — a resurgence of a decades-old conflict over the status of the region — had, in fact, stopped.
Dozens have been killed on both sides during the recent flare-up of the long-festering ethnic tensions between the mainly Muslim Azeris and their Christian Armenian neighbors. The war that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s killed around 30,000 and displaced hundreds of thousands.
The ceasefire announcement came as several European countries urged an end to the fighting, worried that an escalation could cause instability in a region on the borders of eastern Europe and western Asia that serves as a corridor for pipelines taking oil and gas to world markets.
The fighting has been the bloodiest in years, with Azerbaijan saying 16 of its servicemen were killed in the past 48 hours. Officials in the breakaway region had earlier said 20 of their soldiers were killed since the fighting started.
There have been sporadic bouts of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh since a fragile truce was declared in 1994. But the ceasefire was shattered over the weekend with the fiercest fighting in years, now estimated to have killed at least 46 people.
In a statement on the ceasefire, Azerbaijan's defense ministry said: "On April 5 at 12.00 (3am ET), on the basis of a mutual agreement, military actions on the contact line between the armed forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan are halted."
An official with the Armenian-backed armed forces of Nagorno-Karabakh told Reuters: "We've been ordered to halt fire."
As late as Tuesday morning, both Azerbaijan and the Armenian-backed separatists had been reporting fresh clashes.
An all-out war over Nagorno-Karabakh could drag in the big regional powers, Russia and Turkey. Moscow has a defense alliance with Armenia, while Ankara backs Azerbaijan.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday condemned what he said were Armenian attacks, and said Turkey would stand by Azerbaijan. Earlier, Russia's foreign minister had said Ankara's support for Baku in the conflict was one-sided.
Envoys from Russia, France and the United States — who make up a body called the Minsk Group which mediates in the conflict — were planning to head to the region, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in Paris.
"We can see that military conflict cannot be the solution," Ayrault told reporters after talks with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh accused each other earlier on Tuesday of escalating the violence.
"All responsibility for what is happening rests with Armenia which is not interested in resolving the conflict and flouts international law," Azeri Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov told a regional meeting in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
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