YEREVAN, Soviet Union — Armenian officials on Sunday supported a California congresswoman's call for U.N. peacekeeping forces in the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, where ethnic fighters have seized 25 hostages.
The proposal came from visiting Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-Greenbrae). "I'm afraid if we do nothing, we could have the makings of something with very serious consequences," she said.
Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Manukyan called the idea "brilliant."
"May God hear your words," Garlen Petrossian told Boxer in the refugee-laden city of Kirovakan, which she toured later. Petrossian heads a committee formed to take care of refugees fleeing violence along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
Boxer was on a fact-finding mission in the tense southern region two weeks after a failed Kremlin coup triggered a rush toward independence by Soviet republics.
The developments raised new questions about disputed areas such as Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan that is claimed by Armenia.
There was no immediate reaction to Boxer's proposal from the Azerbaijani side.
Six ethnic Azerbaijanis and four Armenians have been taken hostage in Nagorno-Karabakh in the last two days, the Tass news agency said Sunday. Their capture brought the number of hostages held by each side to 17 Armenians and eight Azerbaijanis, Tass said.
It said that interior ministries of both republics were trying to negotiate an end to the hostage standoff.
Refugees in Kirovakan, about 60 miles northwest of Yerevan, said Azerbaijanis continued to harass Armenians in the border region. Aznibe Gabrilian, choking back sobs, told how five Azerbaijani police stopped her car and beat her, saying they were getting even for outrages committed by Armenian men against Azerbaijani women.
Ethnic and territorial differences flared into open violence in 1988 between predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan and Armenia, whose residents are mostly Christians.
Armenian Vice President Babken Ararktsyan said 76 Armenians have been killed since May, when the dispute spilled into Azerbaijani border villages populated mostly by Armenians.
He said the Armenian death toll was about 400 since fighting broke out in 1988. There was no independent verification of the figures, or word on the number of Azerbaijani deaths.
Ararktsyan claimed that 5,000 Armenians have been forcibly deported from Azerbaijan since May, bringing the total to 260,000 since 1988. Most went to Armenia, he said.
The refugee situation is hitting Kirovakan especially hard. The city of 150,000 was devastated in a 1988 earthquake, and Mayor Norig Madinian said most of the population still lacks adequate housing.
Ararktsyan also claimed that Azerbaijani forces backed by Soviet troops had shelled Armenian-populated border villages in the last week, although fighting appeared to quiet down over the weekend.
"Shelling, bombing, all military techniques (were used) against unarmed Armenians," he said. One person was killed and eight wounded, he said.
The vice president said Armenians "are prepared to defend themselves" but claimed they have not yet taken up arms against Azerbaijanis.
Manukyan, the Armenian prime minister, said he supports the dissolution of Kremlin power after the hard-line coup but believes it should be replaced by an administrative center--"more of a coordinating body"--to guard against Russian domination.
Azerbaijan last week declared independence from the Soviet Union, vowed to form its own army and claimed the right to negotiate directly with Nagorno-Karabakh officials on the future of the predominantly Armenian region.
Armenia has not declared independence, but the leadership of its Parliament decided Sunday to seize all assets of the sinking Communist Party in Armenia. The decision apparently strengthened a vote by Armenian lawmakers this summer to seize all party assets.