U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for an “urgent cease-fire” in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region Friday as nearly two weeks of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan has taken a heavy toll on civilians.
“It is deeply worrying that in recent days we have seen populated areas reportedly targeted and shelled with heavy weaponry in and around the conflict area,” Bachelet said in a statement.
Bachelet’s office said it had received unconfirmed reports that more than 50 civilians, including children, have been killed since the fighting erupted Sept. 27. About 400 soldiers have been killed, and thousands of people have fled their homes.
Bachelet’s call for a cease-fire came hours after the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry said Armenia and Azerbaijan had agreed to participate in Moscow-mediated talks to end the fighting.
As deadly clashes over the breakaway Azerbaijani region continued Thursday, foreign ministers of both countries accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to meet for the first negotiations since the fighting began.
"Baku and Yerevan have confirmed their participation," AFP quoted Russian ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying. The preparations were underway, she said.
The Kremlin said in a statement late Thursday that “following a series of telephone discussions between the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan,” Putin called for a halt to fighting "in order to exchange dead bodies and prisoners."
Armenian and Azerbaijani forces had ignored calls in the past two weeks by the United States, France and Russia for an immediate cease-fire, as fighting escalated to levels not seen since the 1990s.
The three countries co-chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Minsk Group, which is trying to find a peaceful solution.
The predominantly ethnic Armenian territory declared its independence from Azerbaijan in 1991 during the collapse of the Soviet Union, sparking a war that claimed the lives of as many as 30,000 people before a 1994 cease-fire.
Peace efforts in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, mediated by the Minsk Group, collapsed in 2010.