WORLD Armenia cedes disputed land

WORLD

Armenia cedes disputed land

AFP

17:19, November 15, 2020

A man looks on as a house burns in the village of Charektar outside the town of Kalbajar in Nagorno-Karabakhon on Saturday. Photo: AFP

Armenia on Sunday was due to begin handing over disputed territory to Azerbaijan as part of a peace accord that ended six weeks of fierce fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Residents of the Kalbajar district in Azerbaijan that was controlled by Armenians for decades began a mass exodus in the days leading up to the official withdrawal day.

AFP journalists saw fleeing residents pile furniture and kitchenware into vehicles before leaving for Armenia and some among the departing ethnic-Armenians said they had exhumed graves they feared would be desecrated by Azerbaijanis.

Thick plumes of smoke were rising over the valley near the village of Charektar after residents set their homes on fire preferring to leave devastation in their wake and homes that would be uninhabitable by Azerbaijanis.

A Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed this week to Nagorno-Karabakh. They set up checkpoints and positions in the region's administrative center, Stepanakert, as part of the terms of the accord that sees Armenia cede swathes of territory that Azerbaijan's forces gained in the fighting.

Moscow's peacekeeping mission, which the military said included soldiers that previously were stationed in Syria, comprises some 2,000 troops for a renewable five-year mission.

The ex-Soviet rivals agreed to end hostilities earlier this week after efforts by Russia, France and the US to get a cease-fire fell through during the nearly two months of clashes.

A key part of the peace deal includes Armenia's return of Kalbajar, as well as the Aghdam district by Friday and the Lachin district by December 1, which have been held by Armenians since a devastating war in the 1990s.

Armenia conceded on Saturday that 2,317 fighters were killed in clashes in which both sides accused the other of targeting civilian infrastructure.

Azerbaijan has not revealed its military casualties and the real toll after weeks of fighting is expected to be much higher.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday said the number of fatalities had surpassed 4,000 and that tens of thousands of people had been forced to flee their homes.

Before departing, Armenians flocked to the Dadivank monastery nestled in a gorge in Kalbajar for a final visit before it was ceded to Azerbaijan.

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