UN team in Nagorno-Karabakh did not see any damage to hospitals, schools

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – A United Nations team visiting Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan did not see any damage to civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and housing or to cultural and religious sites, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Monday.

The team on Sunday visited the Karabakh capital known as Stepanakert by Armenia and Khankendi by Azerbaijan. The visit came weeks after Azerbaijani forces took control of the enclave on its territory populated by ethnic Armenians, triggering an exodus of more than 100,000 Armenians.

“Our colleagues were struck by the sudden manner in which the local population fled their homes and the suffering that the experience must have caused them,” Dujarric told reporters.

“They did not come across any reports – either from the local population or from others – of violence against civilians following the latest ceasefire,” he said. “No destruction of agricultural infrastructure or dead animals were seen by members of the U.N. team.”

Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing – a charge denied by Baku, which has insisted the enclave’s Armenians were welcome to remain in the territory. Baku has also insisted it has no intention of attacking Armenia itself.

Armenia urged the European Union on Monday to sanction Azerbaijan for its military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and warned that Baku could soon attack Armenia itself unless the West takes firm action.

The U.N. mission aimed to assess the situation on the ground and identify humanitarian needs of both people remaining and those on the move, Dujarric said, adding that community representatives told U.N. officials “between 50 and 1,000 ethnic Armenians remain currently in Karabakh.” 

Dujarric said no shops seemed to be open in the city and that Azerbaijan was preparing to resume health services and some basic utilities in the city.

“The team stresses the need to rebuild trust and confidence, adding this will require time and effort from all sides,” Dujarric said. “The U.N. plans to continue to regularly visit the region.”

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)