STEPANAKERT — The sole road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia was effectively closed by Azerbaijan for more than three hours on Saturday.

Authorities in Stepanakert said that a large group of Azerbaijanis blocked a road section outside the Azerbaijani-controlled Karabakh town of Shushi at around noon on ostensibly environmental grounds.

“It is obvious that with this move, Azerbaijan is resorting to provocation to interrupt the land communication between Armenia and Artsakh and subject the civilian population to psychological terror,” Karabakh’s state-run InfoCenter said.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said that the individuals blocking the road sections are officials from the Azerbaijani ministries of environment and economy as well as an Azerbaijani gold mining company. In a statement, it said they wanted to investigate “illegal” mining activity in the area and its “ecological consequences.” It did not elaborate.

The statement added that they are now discussing the matter with the commanders of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Karabakh.

The Karabakh government said later in the afternoon that the road has been unblocked as a result of three-hour negotiations. It accused Baku of seeking to disrupt Karabakh’s overland communication with Armenia and intimidate the territory’s ethnic Armenian population.

A separate statement released by the foreign ministry in Stepanakert condemned the blockage as the latest manifestation of Azerbaijani efforts to depopulate Karabakh through “ethnic cleansing and genocide.” It said Baku’s actions violate the Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped the 2020 war in Karabakh.

“At the moment, 120,000 residents of Artsakh are under a complete blockade, faced with an impending humanitarian catastrophe, for which the Azerbaijani authorities are criminally responsible,” Karabakh Human Rights Defender Gegham Stepanyan wrote on Facebook during the closure.

“Azerbaijan’s deliberate closure of the only road connecting Artsakh and Armenia is another manifestation of its policy of intimidation and genocide against the people of Artsakh,” he added.

“This is also a blow to the Russian peacekeeping mission,” David Babayan, Karabakh’s Acting Foreign Minister, told the Armenpress news agency.

The nearly 2,000 Russian troops were deployed in and around Karabakh as well as the Lachin corridor linking it to Armenia in line with that agreement.

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