BAKU (Reuters) – Azerbaijan has invited a United Nations mission to visit Nagorno-Karabakh “in the coming days”, the foreign ministry said on Friday, amid a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians from the region following a lightning Azerbaijani military offensive.
U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric confirmed that a U.N. mission, led by a senior U.N. aid official, would travel to Nagorno-Karabakh this weekend – the world body’s first access to the region in about 30 years.
“While there the team will seek to assess the situation on the ground and identify the humanitarian needs for both people remaining and the people that are on the move,” Dujarric told reporters on Friday, urging all to respect international law.
“The focus will be on humanitarian and also, as part of that, on issues of protection,” he said.
Armenia, meanwhile, asked the World Court to order Azerbaijan to withdraw all its troops from civilian establishments in Nagorno-Karabakh and provide the United Nations access, the court said.
The World Court, formally known as the International Court of Justice, in February ordered Azerbaijan to ensure free movement through an area known as the Lachin corridor leading to and from the region.
In a request for provisional measures submitted on Thursday, Armenia asked the court to reaffirm the orders issued in February and to instruct it to refrain from all actions directly or indirectly aimed at displacing the remaining ethnic Armenians from the region.
Armenia’s government, in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies, put at more that 98,500 the number of ethnic Armenians who had crossed into Armenia from Karabakh by Friday evening – or more than three quarters of the region’s population.
INTERNATIONAL CALLS FOR MONITORS
The United States and others have called on Baku to allow international monitors into Karabakh due to concerns about possible human rights abuses. Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing in Karabakh, something Baku strongly denies.
“The visit will allow (the mission) to become acquainted with the current humanitarian activities being carried out by Azerbaijan in the region,” Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“In addition, the group members will be shown the process of rebuilding certain infrastructure, disarmament and confiscation of ammunition from illegal Armenian armed forces, as well as the dangers posed by mines.”
Earlier, an Azerbaijani government official said media would also be allowed to visit Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally viewed as part of Azerbaijan but which had been run by an ethnic Armenian breakaway state since the 1990s.
While insisting that Armenians’ civil rights will be protected if they stayed, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said his “iron fist” had consigned the idea of an independent ethnic Armenian Karabakh to history.
Aliyev told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a phone call on Tuesday that his forces had targeted only “military facilities … during the anti-terror measures, which lasted less than 24 hours, and civilians were not harmed”, according to a statement from the Azeri president’s office.
(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Gareth Jones and Ron Popeski; Editing by Alison Williams and Grant McCool)