BAKU/YEREVAN -- A cease-fire in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh was under severe strain on October 20 after new clashes between Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenian forces, despite a plea by the UN Security Council for both sides to respect the truce.
The cease-fire, agreed on October 17, has done little to slow the fighting that began last month, amid concerns it could spark a wider conflict involving Russia and Turkey and fears over the security of gas and oil pipelines in the South Caucasus.
Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh, a separatist enclave in Azerbaijan and controlled by ethnic Armenians, reported new artillery bombardments on the morning of October 20, with fighting particularly intense in southern areas of the conflict zone.
Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry also reported battles in several areas, including disputed territory close to the Line of Contact that divides the warring sides.
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There are fears of a looming humanitarian crisis as several hundred people have been killed in the fighting.
Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said on October 19 that 729 of the region's military personnel and 37 civilians had been killed in the fighting.
Azerbaijan said 61 Azerbaijani civilians had been killed and 282 wounded. It has not disclosed its military casualties.
Azerbaijan, a close ally of regional power and NATO member Turkey, says it has made territorial gains. But Armenia, which has a defense pact with Russia, says it has repulsed Azerbaijani attacks and has the situation under control.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev both told Russia's TASS news agency in separate interviews on October 19 that they were ready to come to Moscow for talks.
The Security Council's 15 members also reiterated a plea by UN chief Antonio Guterres for parties to respect the truce.
Moscow's UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said members of the Security Council had discussed the need to ensure verification of the cease-fire.
The Russian envoy did not rule out that a verification process could be implemented by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
'Who will be there and in what capacity -- who will be actually verifying it -- that's still a question being discussed," Nebenzya told reporters after the council met, according to TASS.
Russia, which currently holds the UN Security Council's rotating presidency, is working on a statement that would call for adherence to the cease-fire, AFP quoted unidentified diplomats as saying.
The text is expected to call on Armenia and Azerbaijan to resume negotiations facilitated by the Minsk Group and chaired by Russia, France, and the United States. The diplomatic initiative of the OSCE is aimed at trying to resolve the conflict, which dates to 1988 in the waning days of the Soviet Union.
A deal brokered by Russia earlier in the month failed to halt the worst fighting in the South Caucasus since the 1990s, which has killed hundreds of soldiers and civilians.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (left) and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev during a meeting in Munich, Germany, in February. (file photo)
Internationally recognized as part of mainly Muslim Azerbaijan, the mountainous territory has been controlled by mainly Christian ethnic Armenians, backed by Yerevan, since the 1994 halt in fighting.
The latest violence has stoked fears that the violence could engulf the region in a wider conflict involving Azerbaijan's closest ally, Turkey, and Russia, which dominates the Collective Security Treaty Organization, of which Armenia is a member.
With reporting by AFP and TASS
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