BAKU, Azerbaijan — Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed Thursday to extend the longest cease-fire yet in their bloody conflict over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, officials from the warring sides and foreign diplomats here said.
The formal extension of the 10-week truce along the front lines has raised hopes among both mediators and combatants that an end is in sight to one of the ugliest conflicts triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union. At least 15,000 people have been killed since the fighting started in 1988.
The defense ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia and the military leader of Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenians signed the extension, said Vefa Gulizade, foreign affairs adviser to Azerbaijani President Gaidar Aliyev.
Armenia also announced the cease-fire extension but stressed the importance of further talks next month about international monitors and progress toward a lasting political solution, the Russian news agency Interfax said.
Relief--and some grumbling--greeted the news in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku. The agreement leaves nothing to celebrate. Up to 20% of Azerbaijan is still under Armenian control, and 1 million Azerbaijanis are still displaced from their homes.
The mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh may still theoretically be part of Azerbaijan, but its 30,000 Azerbaijani residents have been expelled and it is now linked by conquered territory to Armenia.
Aliyev has quietly put aside vows made after coming to power last year to retake all territories held by Armenia. A major Azerbaijani offensive in January won back little land but killed and injured thousands of young, ill-trained Azerbaijani recruits.
Despite minor clashes that have interrupted the cease-fire, brokered by Moscow in May, Western and Russian diplomats are unusually optimistic. They believe the combatants are sincere in their search for a way out of a conflict that has left both Armenia and Azerbaijan poor, war-weary and increasingly dependent on Moscow.
"I've lost count of cease-fires. But this one seems a blissful lull . . . on both sides," said Mahmoud Said, the U.N. representative in Baku.