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US Concerned About Fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh

The United States Wednesday expressed concern about this week's outbreak of fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian soldiers near the disputed Armenian-held territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. A senior U.S. envoy is in the region discussing the issue with Azeri and Armenian officials. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Nagorno-Karabakh fighting is described as the most serious of its kind in several years and it has prompted an appeal for restraint from the State Department, which says there is no military solution to the issue.

Azerbaijan and Armenia are blaming each other for the clash, which broke out Tuesday along the cease-fire line in the disputed region, and reportedly killed four Azerbaijani and 12 Armenian soldiers.

Officials said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Matthew Bryza - ordered to the region earlier this week because of post-election political unrest in Armenia - has also been discussing Nagorno-Karabakh with the two parties.

In a talk with reporters, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said the United States is concerned by the violence and wants to see that Tuesday's incident is not repeated:

"Clearly all this does is show the need for the parties to engage with the Minsk Group chairs, and work on resolving this conflict," said Tom Casey. "I know it's one that's been out there for a long time, but there is absolutely no military solution to this issue. It's one that has to be dealt with through a diplomatic process."

Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, declared independence in 1988, triggering a six-year conflict that claimed 35,000 lives.

The Minsk Group, chaired by France, Russia and the United States, was created in 1992 and since then has been leading diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict.

Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of taking advantage of its election crisis to foment the latest trouble.

Azerbaijan, meanwhile, alleges that militant ethnic-Armenians in Nagorno-Karbakh have been encouraged by international recognition of Serbia's breakaway former province, Kosovo.

Asked about that comparison, State Department spokesman Casey said majority-ethnic Albanian Kosovo, a scene of ethnic cleansing by Serb forces a decade ago, was a unique situation:

"Its status was managed under a specific U.N. Security Council resolution, with an understanding in that resolution that final status was something that was going to be decided by the international community at an appropriate time," he said. "And that's where we are now. Kosovo is not a precedent and should be seen as a precedent for any other place out there in the world. It certainly isn't a precedent for Nagorno-Karabakh."

Casey said U.S. envoy Bryza began his mission in Baku with talks with Azerbaijani officials and was due in the Armenian capital Yerevan on Friday. He said Bryza has already discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh situation in a telephone call to Armenia's foreign minister, Vardan Oskanian.

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