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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Talks Bring No Respite in Karabakh

By Sergei Shargorodsky THE ASSOCIATED PRESS The longest-running ethnic conflict in the former Soviet Union appears to be intensifying. Even as Russia threw its political weight this week into a new effort to end the war on its southern flank, the two sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were sending fresh recruits into battle. Hundreds have been killed and 50,000 left homeless in heavy fighting around the mountainous enclave over the last three weeks, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The surge cast a shadow over the latest negotiating efforts, particularly since numerous cease-fires and talks have failed. Parliamentary leaders from Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh were in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for a meeting on the six-year war on Wednesday. Confined at first to the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh, populated mostly by Christian Armenians but located inside predominantly Moslem Azerbaijan, the war took on new dimensions last year with the seizure by Armenian forces of territory outside it. Armenian separatists now seem determined to build a security belt around Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan pins its main hopes on peace talks that may at least force an Armenian retreat to the enclave. Meanwhile, the death toll climbs daily and now exceeds 20,000, while refugees number more than a million. Armenia still officially denies involvement, but reports say it is sending volunteers, including army reservists, to back the separatists. Many are eager to fight for the land they see as the historic cradle of Armenian culture and statehood. Others are lured by wages of about $3 a month, well above the average Armenian's pay. Azerbaijan, too, has sent thousands of new troops since winter. Last month, police and military patrols rounded up draft dodgers and deserters on the streets of the capital Baku, dispatching all men under 45 without exemptions to the front. The Armenian-backed separatists now control 70 percent of Nagorno-Karabakh, two corridors of Azerbaijani land linking it to Armenia, and most Azerbaijani land between Nagorno-Karabakh and the Iranian border to the south. The fighting is concentrated in eastern and northeastern sectors of the enclave still held by Azerbaijanis. Since Heidar Aliyev, Azerbaijan's former Communist Party boss, came to power last year, Russia has gained influence in the region. It brought the sides together for negotiations in exchange for a 10 percent share in the oil project. A cease-fire agreement in February granted Russia the right to deploy peacekeepers in the war zone. But the Azerbaijani parliament rejected that agreement, demanding a full Armenian pullout from territories outside Nagorno-Karabakh. Observers see the Russian involvement as being self-interested.