BAKU: Tensions over Nagorno-Karabakh eased a notch on Monday as aid deliveries resumed to the breakaway territory following an agreement between Armenian separatists and authorities in Azerbaijan.

Armenia had accused Azerbaijan of fuelling a humanitarian crisis in the mountainous region — internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan — by closing the sole road linking the region with Armenia. It had said the closure of the Lachin corridor, which is policed by Russian peacekeepers, had led to food and medicine shortages in the region and accused Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing, allegations Baku has denied.

Baku has said separatists refused its proposal to reopen Lachin at the same time as the Aghdam road, which connects Nagorno-Karabakh with the rest of Azerbaijan.

The months-long crisis as well as Azerbaijan’s deployment of troops near Nagorno-Karabakh and along the border with Armenia had sparked fears of a fresh war between the arch-foes locked in a decades-long dispute over the region.

The “simultaneous passage of the Red Cross cars was ensured” through the Lachin corridor and the Aghdam road on Monday, Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy advisor to Azerbaijan’s president said on social media.

“The whole international community once again witnessed that there was no so-called blockade but a deliberate self-blockade, weaponization and politicisation of humanitarian issues,” he said.

‘Sustained relief’

Separatist authorities confirmed 23 tonnes of wheat flour from Armenia as well as medical supplies had been delivered to Nagorno-Karabakh “thanks to the agreement reached between the Red Cross’s Stepanakert branch and Russian peacekeepers.”

“The delivery of cargo from the Russian city of Rostov is planned by Red Cross vehicles in several days via the same routes.”

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan recently said some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers were either “unable or unwilling” to control the road as part of a 2020 ceasefire deal between Baku and Yerevan.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had managed to deliver “wheat flour and essential medical items” through the two roads thanks to “a humanitarian consensus” between regional “decision-makers.”

Nagorno-Karabakh residents “urgently need sustained relief through regular humanitarian shipments,” said Ariane Bauer, ICRC’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia.

The European Union and the United States have called for the reopening of the Lachin and Aghdam routes for humanitarian aid.

Azerbaijan’s Armenian-populated enclave was at the centre of two wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan — in 2020 and in the 1990s.

Six weeks of fighting ended in autumn 2020 with a Russian-brokered truce that saw Armenia cede swathes of territory it had controlled since the 1990s.

There have been frequent clashes at the two countries’ shared border despite the ongoing peace talks between Baku and Yerevan under the mediation of the European Union and the United States.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have said they are committed to the conflict’s peaceful settlement, but the negotiations have so far failed to bring about a breakthrough.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, ethnic Armenian separatists in Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan. The ensuing conflict claimed some 30,000 lives.

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