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Russia says discussing U.N. presence in Nagorno-Karabakh as its troops deploy

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia is in talks with Armenia and Azerbaijan on the deployment of United Nations structures in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia’s foreign minister said on Friday, as Russian peacekeeping troops moved into the enclave under a recent truce deal.

FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, February 25, 2020. PREUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Russia brokered a ceasefire on Tuesday that secured territorial advances for Azerbaijan around the ethnic Armenian region within Azeri borders, where Azeri troops have been battling ethnic Armenian forces over the past six weeks.

Moscow agreed the accord without its partners in an international grouping overseeing Karabakh, the United States and France, which have said they are studying the arrangements.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the U.N. would mainly be involved in humanitarian issues related to the settlement of people driven from their homes by the conflict.

“The U.N. is very interested in coordinating their actions with our peacekeepers, with our border guards and with those who will solve humanitarian problems,” Lavrov told an online meeting led by President Vladmir Putin.

“We are in contact with our Armenian and Azeri colleagues at the request of the U.N. structures in order for them to deploy their presence in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Russia’s TASS news agency cited him as saying.

Moscow was also in contact with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees office, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN development programme, Lavrov said.

Putin said at the meeting that more than 4,000 people were killed on both sides, including civilians, with 8,000 wounded and tens of thousands driven from their homes.

Hundreds of Russian peacekeepers have already arrived in the region, and Russian border guards have placed five posts in Nagorno-Karabakh, two of them on the border with Iran, Alexander Bortnikov, Russia’s Security Service chief, told the meeting.

He said the Russian Emergencies Ministry was ready to send a group of 150 rescuers and 17 pieces of equipment to the region, where the bodies of dozens of ethnic Armenian fighters still lay alongside a mountain road on Friday.

The process of exchanging the bodies of those killed began on Friday, Arayik Harutyunyan, Nagorno-Karabakh leader, wrote on his Facebook page. The exchange is being coordinated between Russian peacekeepers the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Rescue Service of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Lavrov said he had informed France and the United States about the ceasefire deal, which was signed between Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The accord has triggered protests calling for the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in the Armenian capital Yerevan, where hundreds of protesters rallied for a fourth day on Friday chanting “Nikol is a traitor!”.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, which now joins eight other former Soviet republics where Russia has a military presence. Moscow already had military bases in five neighbouring states as well as troops in regions which have broken away from three others.

Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Additional reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in YEREVAN; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editng by Philippa Fletcher