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Putin, Trump and Macron urge 'immediate' ceasefire in Karabakh

YEREVAN: The presidents of Russia, the United States and France called Thursday for a ceasefire in the Nagorny Karabakh region, urging Armenia and Azerbaijan to commit to talks without delay or preconditions.

"We call for an immediate cessation of hostilities between the relevant military forces," French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump of the US said in a statement released by the Elysee.

"We also call on the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to commit without delay to resuming substantive negotiations," said the leaders, whose countries are the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group that has sought a solution to the conflict since the 1990s.

The statement said such talks should be "in good faith and without preconditions" and be held under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.

The Minsk group, which was created by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 1992, has on occasion overseen summits between Armenian and Azeri leaders but has failed to find any lasting resolution to the conflict.

The fiercest clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in years over the region erupted last Sunday. The number of confirmed deaths neared 130 as fighting raged for a fifth day.

The rival Caucasus nations have been locked in a bitter stalemate over the Karabakh region since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the ethnic Armenian region broke away from Azerbaijan.

Karabakh's declaration of independence from Azerbaijan sparked a war in the early 1990s that claimed 30,000 lives. Controlled by ethnic Armenians, the region is still not recognised as independent by any country, including Armenia.

Meanwhile, two French and two Armenian journalists were injured Thursday in the South Caucasus separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces this week marked the biggest escalation in years of the decades-old conflict.

The two Le Monde reporters were wounded in morning shelling in the town of Martuni, the newspaper said. Armenia's Foreign Ministry said they were being taken to a hospital and accused Azerbaijan of bombarding the region.

A cameraman with the Armenia TV channel and a reporter with the Armenian 24News outlet also were injured in the Martuni shelling, Armenian officials said. It was unclear how badly the four journalists were hurt. A Russian journalist with the independent Dozhd TV channel was reported to have reached a bomb shelter safely.

The president of Azerbaijan said Armenia's withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh was the sole condition to end the fighting.

Armenian officials claim Turkey is involved in the conflict, allegedly sending fighters from Syria to the region and deploying Turkish F-16 fighter jets to assist Azerbaijnai

forces.

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