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UN mission arrives in Nagorno-Karabakh for first visit in 30 years

UN mission arrives in Nagorno-Karabakh for first visit in 30 years


UN mission arrives in Nagorno-Karabakh for first visit in 30 years

(AFP) - An Azerbaijani presidency spokesman told AFP that a "UN mission arrived in Karabakh on Sunday morning" – mainly to assess humanitarian needs.

It marks the first time in about 30 years that the international body has gained access to the region.

Armenian separatists, who had controlled the region for three decades, agreed to disarm, dissolve their government and reintegrate with Baku following a one-day Azerbaijani offensive last week.

France has lashed out at Azerbaijan for only allowing the mission in after most residents had already fled.

The end of Karabakh's separatist bid dealt a heavy blow to a centuries-old dream by Armenians of reuniting what they say are their ancestral lands, divided among regional powers since the Middle Ages.

Nearly all of Karabakh's estimated 120,000 residents fled the territory over the following days, sparking a refugee crisis.

Nazeli Baghdasaryan, a spokeswoman of the Armenian prime minister, said "100,483 forcefully displaced persons arrived in Armenia" by Sunday morning.

She said 45,516 refugees were now in temporary accommodation.

Day of prayer

On Sunday, Armenia observed a national day of prayer for the region.

Bells tolled in churches across the country, and the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Karekin II, led a service in the nation's main cathedral Echmiadzin, close to the capital Yerevan.

Clergymen in ornate robes sang ancient chants at an open-air altar outside the imposing cathedral built in pale pink limestone.

Hundreds attended the religious service in the church of Saint Sarkis, in Yerevan.

"One of the most tragic pages of Armenian history is being written today," 28-year-old Mariam Vartanyan told AFP, standing in the crowd of worshippers wrapped in the smoke of burning incense.

Architect Artur Hayrapetyan, 25, said: "I am praying for the end of this disaster in Karabakh, for Armenia's survival."

Yerevan has accused Baku of "ethnic cleansing" – an allegation that Baku rejected – calling on Armenians not to leave their homes and reintegrate with Azerbaijan where their rights would be respected.

Emergency appeal

Armenia, a country of 2.8 million, faces a major challenge housing the sudden influx of refugees.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on Friday announced an emergency appeal for 20 million Swiss Francs ($22 million) to help those fleeing.

Azerbaijan is now holding "re-integration" talks with separatist leaders while at the same time detaining some senior figures from its former government and military command.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan are set to meet on Thursday in the Spanish city of Granada for Western-mediated talks aimed at ending their historic enmity.

With the two countries' relations poisoned by ethnic hatred ensuing from three wars in as many decades, several rounds of negotiations mediated by Brussels and Washington have so far failed to bring about a breakthrough.