YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The top religious leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia have called for a withdrawal of snipers from Karabagh frontlines as a means to stop bloodshed amid more reported casualties in the conflict zone.
Russia’s Patriarch Kirill read out the statement that he made jointly with Catholicos Karekin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and Azerbaijan’s top Shia Muslim leader, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, at the end of a trilateral meeting in Yerevan held as part of a summit of top clerics from post-Soviet countries.
Armenia, as well as international mediators, have repeatedly called for a bilateral withdrawal of snipers in order to reduce deadly ceasefire violations reported along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” on a regular basis. Each side blames the other.
The military authorities in Armenia and Karabagh reiterated their readiness to withdraw snipers from the frontline positions also following the reported deaths of two Armenian soldiers near Karabagh on November 19 and 20 by what Stepanakert described as sniper fire from Azerbaijani army positions. They stressed, however, that they cannot do so unilaterally.
At the same time, the military in Armenia vowed to retaliate to discourage further sniper activity in the conflict zone. Karabagh’s ethnic Armenian army reported seven killed or wounded in the Azeri army in the past week, describing the casualties as resulting from their troops’ “punitive actions.” Azerbaijan has confirmed only one death.