Nagorno-Karabakh cease-fire strained by fierce new clashes

Nagorno-Karabakh cease-fire strained by fierce new clashes
A man walks on a deserted street in the city of Stepanakert in Azerbaijan. (AFP)
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Updated 21 October 2020

Nagorno-Karabakh cease-fire strained by fierce new clashes

Nagorno-Karabakh cease-fire strained by fierce new clashes
  • The cease-fire, agreed to on Saturday, has had little impact on fighting that began on Sept. 27

YEREVAN/BAKU: A cease-fire in the mountain territory of Nagorno-Karabakh was under severe strain on Tuesday after fierce new clashes between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces fighting their deadliest battles since the 1990s. 

The cease-fire, agreed to on Saturday, has had little impact on fighting that began on Sept. 27, despite concerns it could spark a wider conflict involving Russia and Turkey.

In an interview, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian accused Turkey of destabilising the South Caucasus with its strong backing for Azerbaijan. But he said he did not advocate military intervention by Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia.

“What I’m preaching is not involving Russia and then tomorrow Iran and a third party, and making Armenia and Azerbaijan and the Caucasus another Syria,” he told France-24 television.

“What I’m saying here is that instead of talking about involving Russia, we have to talk about excluding Turkey, which has a completely destructive role here.”

Ankara denies accusations by Armenia, France and Russia that it sent mercenaries from the conflicts in Syria and Libya to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh, which broke away from Azerbaijan as the Soviet Union collapsed.

In comments to Azerbaijan’s parliament, Turkish Parliament Speaker Mustafa Sentop portrayed Armenia as the aggressor and criticized mediation led for years by France, the United States and Russia under the auspices of the OSCE security watchdog.

“If they are sincere on their path to peace, those who have held Armenia’s leash and supported it for years need to end this dangerous game now and stop supporting Armenia. Azerbaijan does not have another 30 years to wait,” Sentop said.

The OSCE’s Nagorno-Karabakh mediating panel, known as the Minsk Group, “is brain dead,” he said.

Several hundred people have been killed since Sept. 27 in fighting involving drones, warplanes, heavy artillery, tanks and missiles, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis and concerns about the security of oil and gas pipelines in Azerbaijan.

The new cease-fire appears to have had no more effect on fighting than an earlier deal brokered by Russia that failed.

Azerbaijan wants an end to what it calls Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia rules this out and accuses Azerbaijan of making a land grab.

Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh reported new artillery battles on Tuesday and said fighting was intense in southern areas of the conflict zone.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry also reported fighting in several areas, including disputed territory close to the line of contact dividing the sides. It said Armenian forces were shelling the Azeri regions of Terter and Aghdam.

Azerbaijan said its foreign minister, Jeyhun Bayramov, would hold talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Minsk Group in Washington on Friday, but gave no details.

Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations said the Security Council had discussed the conflict on Monday. Asked about the possibility of UN observers going to the region, he said that would require a mandate from the Security Council.

“This is not a quick process,” the envoy, Vasily Nebenzya, was quoted as saying by TASS. He suggested any observer mission might involve the OSCE.


Filipinos abroad cautioned on new strain of COVID-19

Filipinos abroad cautioned on new strain of COVID-19
Updated 16 min 54 sec ago

Filipinos abroad cautioned on new strain of COVID-19

Filipinos abroad cautioned on new strain of COVID-19
  • Manila brings home 400,000 overseas workers affected by the pandemic

MANILA: Philippines Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III reminded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to remain vigilant against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and follow the health and safety protocols of their host countries, especially with the emergence of a new and more contagious strain.

More COVID-19 infections have been recorded among Filipinos abroad, with the highest number of cases reported in the Middle East.

“There is no room for complacency. We cannot let our guard down. Despite the availability of COVID-19 vaccines in your country of work, the virus remains an imminent threat to your health and safety,” Bello said in a statement on Monday.

Citing a report from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), Bello said the Middle East remains the region with “highest recorded cases of infection among OFWs at 7,844 as of Jan. 13.”

The region also has the highest number of OFW deaths due to COVID-19, reaching 619 according to the report.

On Sunday, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said that “Qatar reported the single biggest number of cases at 3,873, with 14 new COVID-19 infections among OFWs in the last 24 hours. Nineteen OFW casualties were recorded.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in a report on Monday, confirmed a total of 13,591 COVID-19 cases among Filipinos abroad as of Jan. 18. Of the total number, 3,968 are undergoing treatment; 8,682 have recovered, while 941 died.

Based on the DFA data, countries in Europe and the Americas have over 3,000 cases with 317 deaths, while there were 2,746 OFW infections in Asia and the Pacific, with 21 deaths.

More than 400,000 overseas Filipino workers affected by the pandemic have been brought home by the government, the DOLE reported during the weekend.

Latest figures from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) showed that 8,273 OFWs were transported to their respective provinces last week alone, up from 7,895 the previous week.

In a report to Bello, OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac said total repatriates who have undergone quarantine and been cleared of COVID-19 stood at 410,211 as of Jan. 16.

“After their ordeal in their country of origin, our dear OFWs were all provided accommodation, food, transportation and cash assistance by the government. Now, they are safely home with their families,” Bello said.

It is estimated that about 60,000 to 80,000 more OFWs will be repatriated this year. Those awaiting repatriation form part of the over 520,000 OFWs displaced by the pandemic.