Azerbaijan halts transport passage between Armenia, Karabakh: Border guards

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Azerbaijan on Tuesday temporarily shut the only road linking its breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region with Armenia, accusing the Armenian branch of the Red Cross of smuggling.

The Armenian-populated region has been at the center of a decades-long territorial dispute between the Caucasus arch-foes, which have fought several wars over the mountainous territory.

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“The passage through Lachin checkpoint of the state border is temporarily suspended” pending an investigation into the Red Cross using its medical vehicles for “smuggling,” Azerbaijan’s state border service said on Tuesday.

Azerbaijan in April set up the border point at the entrance to the Lachin corridor, exacerbating allegations from Armenia of a Karabakh “blockade.”

The Armenian branch of the Red Cross said in late June that Azerbaijan was blocking access to Karabakh, as concern grew over the humanitarian situation in the restive region.

Azerbaijan’s state border service said several days later that traffic through the Lachin corridor -- policed by Russian peacekeepers -- resumed on June 26.

The latest developments followed a months-long blockade by Azerbaijani environmental activists, which Yerevan claims spurred a humanitarian crisis and food and fuel shortages.

Azerbaijan insisted at the time that civilian transport could go unimpeded through the Lachin corridor.

In February the International Court of Justice (ICJ) -- the UN’s top judicial body -- had ordered Azerbaijan to ensure free movement on the road.

The two former Soviet republics have fought two wars for control of Karabakh, in the 1990s and again in 2020.

Six weeks of fighting in autumn 2020 ended with a Russian-sponsored ceasefire that saw Armenia cede swathes of territories it had controlled for decades.

There have been frequent clashes at the two countries’ shared border despite the ongoing peace talks between Baku and Yerevan under the mediation from the European Union and United States.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, ethnic Armenian separatists in Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan. The ensuing conflict claimed some 30,000 lives.

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