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War Intensifies Inside Disputed Province of Nagorno-Karabakh

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK

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AS the fighting has intensified, the task of covering the war in Nagorno-Karabakh has become increasingly daunting. The more casualties mount, the more each side suspects Western journalists unless they propagate only the one side's view of right and wrong. And as the war grows more sophisticated, the perils of reaching the Armenian-populated enclave inside Azerbaijan grow apace.

The route through Azerbaijan goes only as far as the border as recent Armenian military victories bring more and more of the region under their control. But the only way in from Armenia is via helicopters that have been the regular targets of gunfire or have crashed as they try to fly low over the mountain crests.

Our host, Zori Balayan, a prominent writer and politician who runs the Karabakh support committee in Armenia personally "guaranteed" our safety. His assurances had to be continually weighed against his unconcealed desire for outside observers to report the Armenian view.

Last Thursday we were offered a ride in to the newly recaptured airstrip on a small, Yak-40 Aeroflot jet carrying medical supplies to Stepanakert, the besieged capital of Nagorno-Karabakh.

"Welcome to Nagorno-Karabakh which will be defended to the end," Mr. Balayan announced cheerily as we screeched to a halt on the runway.

We piled into the back of an open truck and rode quickly up the mountain road into Stepanakert, a city of 70,000 people who have endured three months of steady bombardment from Azeri rocket artillery batteries stationed above it in Shusha and, until the recent offensive, below it in Khojaly.

We attended a press conference with the Karabakh government leadership in an icy cold room in the parliament building, the windows blown out long ago by rockets.

The back of the building was shattered. The former Communist Party headquarters next door, the statue of Lenin still standing out front, had been turned into a hospital, but its top three floors had been destroyed by a rocket two weeks ago. The doctors were reduced to working in a downstairs inner room, operating often by candlelight when the portable generator ran out of fuel.

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