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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Armenians move in on town

BAKU, Azerbaijan - Armenian forces were close to capturing a strategic town that would give them their first direct land access to the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani defense officials said Monday.


"Lachin is completely cut off from Azerbaijan. The situation in the city is very difficult", said Azad Isa-Zade, the ministry's deputy spokesman.


Opening the road from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh would mark a major setback to Azerbaijani efforts to control the ethnically Armenian region, and could change the nature of the four-year-old war.


An Armenian convoy carrying wounded soldiers crossed from Nagorno-Karabakh along a demilitarized road into Lachin early Monday, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported. It said vehicles were traveling the other way carrying medicine and supplies. The Interfax news agency also said the road would be opened.


Lanchin is on a strip of Azerbaijani territory that separates Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia. Possession of the town would give Armenia control of a main road leading from Armenia to Karabakh easing the republic's supply problems.


The domestic political situation in Azerbaijan remained tumultuous in the face of continuing military setbacks in the war.


Former Azerbaijani President Mutalibov, who was ousted Saturday for the second time, would be arrested and tried as a "state criminal" if found, the Moscow-based Nega news agency reported. Mutalibov has not been seen in public since his ouster, and his whereabouts are not known.


A Mutalibov ally, Azerbaijani Deputy National Security Minister Gen. -Maj. Sadykhov, committed suicide after being notified that he would be arrested for his participation last week in the "attempted government coup", Nega reported Monday. No other details were given.


The four-year battle over Nagorno-Karabakh has been the main issue facing the new government that took over Saturday following Mutalibov's second ouster.


The fall of Lachin would follow heavy Azerbaijani losses in recent weeks, including the city of Shusha, the last major Azerbaijani stronghold inside Karabakh.


Taking the town would also signify a widening of the conflict as Armenia, until now, has confined its military activity primarily to the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.


On Sunday, a top Azerbaijani opposition leader, who supports a harder line in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, warned that Azerbaijan could become another Lebanon if order is not restored.


Political power in Azerbaijan was retaken Saturday by the National Council, a mixture of opposition Popular Front activists and former Communist Party apparatchiks.


In March, the coalition forced the resignation of Mutalibov, a former Communist party chief, who had been


criticized as being too soft in the fight for Nagorno-Karabakh.


Mutalibov was reinstated by parliament on Thursday, but was ousted again after opponents seized parliament and other strategic buildings.


It was still unclear whether the 50-member Council would hold a parliamentary session scheduled for Monday to discuss the war, elections and the future of the government. Nearly 240 of the 300 legislators - elected before the collapse of Communism - had supported Mutalibov's return to power.