Armenia says two French journalists covering its clashes with Azerbaijan have been injured by shelling, as both sides continued to rebuff global calls for talks to end the fighting that erupted on Sunday.
Two reporters with the French newspaper Le Monde were injured by Azerbaijani artillery in the town of Martuni, part of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, on Thursday morning, Armenia’s foreign ministry said.
The pair were taken to hospital in the region’s capital and one was in “grave condition” and undergoing surgery, Armenian authorities said.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, confirmed the two were injured in remarks to journalists as he arrived at the European council on Thursday. “We are putting all our efforts into repatriating them,” he said.
A Russian news outlet said one of its journalists was also caught up in the bombardment but managed to make it to a bunker in time.
“Fortunately, there was a basement nearby, and we all ran there,” the Russian correspondent, Dmitry Elovsky, told his outlet. “Colleagues from Le Monde were in a different car.”
Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry in a statement accusing Armenia of “grossly violating international humanitarian law” by facilitating foreign journalists’ visits to the frontline and “endangering their lives”.
The journalists were reportedly being shown houses that had been shelled in the region over which Armenian and Azerbaijan are fighting. Nagorno-Karabakh is legally recognised as Azerbaijani territory but has a mostly Armenian population who have ruled themselves since the last major war over the area ended in 1994.
Armenia says the area was “relatively stable but tense” overnight and leaders from both countries have spurned calls from the UN and offers by Russia to host negotiations.
There are fears that the longer the fighting continues the greater the risk of the conflict dragging in regional powers including Russia and Iran. Turkey has openly sided with Azerbaijan and Turkish security companies are accused of sending Syrian mercenaries into the battle – though Ankara denies this.
A spokesman for the foreign ministry in Iran, which neighbours Armenia and has a fraught relationship with Azerbaijan, expressed concern at the presence of Syrian fighters in the battle, as well as at reports – so far unproven – that Armenia has shipped in Kurdish militants to fight on its side.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will not allow terrorist groups in the areas adjacent to the northern borders of our country to become a centre of threat against our national security,” the spokesman said at a press conference in Tehran.
France accused Turkey of sending Syrian mercenaries to fight in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and said it was working with Russia to reach a ceasefire.
France, Russia and the United States are co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation’s (OSCE) Minsk group, set up in 1992 to mediate a peaceful resolution over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in the south Caucasus.
The group has yet to meet or send a joint statement since clashes began on Sunday over the mountainous enclave, which is inside Azerbaijan but administered by ethnic Armenians and broke away in a 1991-94 war.
“President [Emmanuel] Macron and [Vladimir] Putin agreed on the need for a joint effort to reach a ceasefire in the framework of Minsk,” Macron’s office said in a statement after the two leaders spoke by telephone.
“They also shared their concern regarding the sending of Syrian mercenaries by Turkey to Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Macron, who has been in a war of words with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for months, said on Wednesday Ankara was acting in a “warlike” manner.
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Syrian and Libyan fighters from illegal armed groups were being sent to the Nagorno-Karabakh regions.
Russia has a military base in Armenia and considers it to be a strategic partner. France’s population includes about 600,000 people of Armenian origin.