By Paul Quinn-Judge, Baku, Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan charged yesterday that Armenian militants massacred men, women and children after forcing them from a town in Nagorno-Karabagh last week.
Azerbaijani officials said 1000 Azeris had been killed in town of Khojaly and that Armenian fighters then slaughtered men, women and children fleeing across snow-covered mountain passes.
Armenian officials disputed the death toll and denied the massacre report.
Journalists on the scene said it was difficult to say exactly how many people had been killed in surrounding areas. But a Reuters photographer said he saw two trucks filled with Azeri corpses, and a Russian journalist reported massacre sites elsewhere in the area.
Azeri officials and journalists who flew briefly to the region by helicopter recovered the bodies of three dead children who had been shot in the head, Reuters said, but Armenians prevented them from retrieving more bodies.
There were growing signs that many civilians were killed during the capture of Khojaly.
Footage shot by Azerbaijan Television Sunday showed about 10 dead bodies, including several women and children, in an improvised morgue in Aghdam. An editor at the main television station in Baku said 180 bodies had been recovered so far. A helicopter flying over the vicinity is reported to have seen other corpses, while the BBC quoted a French photographer who said that he had counted 31 dead, including women and children, some who appeared as though they were shot in the head at close range.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Khojaly, Elmar Mamedov, said at a news conference in Baku that 1000 people had died in the attack, 200 more were missing, 300 had been taken hostage, and 200 were injured. Armored personnel carriers of the 366th spearheaded the attack, Mamedov charged, and cleared the way for Armenian irregulars.