Azerbaijan claims full control of Nagorno-Karabakh after local Armenian forces agree to lay down weapons

Azerbaijan has claimed full control of Nagorno-Karabakh after local Armenian forces agree to lay down weapons

A ceasefire had been agreed in the region after dozens died in shelling, according to Azerbaijan and ethnic-Armenian officials.

Azerbaijan deployed troops and launched strikes on Tuesday in what it called an "anti-terrorist" military operation after months of tension.

Azerbaijan's defence ministry said Armenian separatist forces had agreed to "lay down their weapons, abandon combat positions and military posts and completely disarm".

The weapons were being handed over to the army, it added.

Talks between the sides on "reintegrating" the region into Azerbaijan are due on Thursday.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed area surrounded by territory largely held by Azerbaijan, and has been a flashpoint since the end of the USSR.

More than 6,000 people died in a war three years ago which saw Azerbaijan regain parts of the region and surrounding territories that had been under Armenian control since 1994.

Nagorno-Karabakh's human rights ombudsman, Geghan Stepanyan, said on Wednesday at least 32 people, including seven civilians, had been killed and more than 200 wounded in the latest offensive.

Artillery, aircraft and drones were reportedly used.

Azerbaijan said it used "high-precision weapons" to destroy military equipment and weaponry - and that only military sites were targeted.

However, images showed shop windows blown and cars peppered with shrapnel on the streets of the regional capital Stepanakert.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had urged Russian peacekeepers do more and said Nagorno-Karabakh was being attacked in an attempt to start a war.

Azerbaijan said it launched its offensive hours after four soldiers and two civilians were allegedly killed in landmine explosions in the mountainous region - home to about 120,000 people.

Armenia denied its troops or weapons were in the region and said claims of landmines and sabotage were untrue.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken had urged Azerbaijan to "immediately cease military actions" in phone calls to both sides, said America's state department.

It said Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, had "expressed readiness" to stop the offensive and that Mr Blinken had told Armenia it had Washington's full backing.

Russia's foreign ministry also urged both sides to honour the terms of a 2020 ceasefire deal that included an armistice.

"We urge the conflicting parties to immediately stop the bloodshed, stop hostilities and eliminate civilian casualties," it said on the Telegram app.

The UN and EU also called for the fighting to stop.

There are fears a conflict in the region could destabilise the South Caucasus - a region where the US, Russia, Turkey and Iran are vying for influence.

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There were also clashes on Tuesday between police and hundreds of protesters who wanted Mr Pashinyan to defend the ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

At least 34 people - 16 policemen and 18 civilians - were injured in the unrest, Armenia's health ministry said.