Turkey gives Armenia ultimatum to pull out: Ankara warns against occupying Azeri territory. Hugh Pope reports from Baku

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LIKE AN angered giant feeling its hands bound, Turkey has forsworn talk of direct military intervention in the Caucasus to give Armenia, the United Nations and international pressure a chance to remove Armenian forces from newly occupied Azeri territory.

Turkey's President Turgut Ozal ended an official visit to the Azeri capital Baku this week after warning that 'Armenia will either get out or be forced out'.

A Turkish embargo on the transport to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, of any goods by air and road would continue until the Armenians pulled back, and even some goods travelling via Georgia would be controlled, he said.

But Mr Ozal gave no time frame for the pull-out and said no mutual defence treaty with Azerbaijan had been signed, although he noted that a Turkish delegation bristling with colonels and pashas had offered unspecified assistance to Turkey's ethnic cousins in Azerbaijan.

'The Turks don't want to start the Third World War, and nobody wants to take on the Red Army,' a Western diplomat commented. Any real action by Turkey's army, the second biggest in Nato, would immediately risk conflict with Armenia's official allies, the former Soviet forces of Russia.

The Caucasus remains a volatile place after a major offensive by Armenian forces two weeks ago. It brought a tenth of south-west Azerbaijan under Armenian control, an overspill from the five-year conflict over the Armenian-controlled Azeri territory of Nagorny Karabakh. Feeling its honour slighted, Turkey's actions remain somewhat unpredictable.

The Caucasian tinderbox could be set ablaze by many things, including revelations of what happened to thousands of Azeris still missing in the captured district of Kelbadzhar. A respected foreign diplomat in Baku alleged in a briefing to reporters that he had listened to Azeri tapes of Armenian military radio traffic that included orders to kill Azeri prisoners and bury them from view.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which monitors wartime respect for the Geneva conventions, had still not received permission from Armenia for free access to the Kelbadzhar region 10 days after Armenian forces captured it. Azeri officials say 62,000 Azeris were forced to flee and that 5,000 people are missing, although the figure is hard to verify. 'The more days that pass, the more questions there are about the situation in the region,' said Andre Picot, the Red Cross representative in Baku.

The Azeri army seems too disorganised to stage a counter-attack in the short term, despite the population advantage of 7 million people to Armenia's 3 million.

But a Turkish Foreign Ministry idea to announce the unconditional ceasefire called for by Armenia found no favour in Baku.

'This is an Armenian offensive. It is they who should stop shooting,' said the Azeri President, Abulfaz Elchibey. 'We have not yet lost faith in negotiations or international pressure. But until we see the return of Kelbadzhar, we cannot see in (Armenian President Levon) Ter Petrosian a negotiator.'

MOSCOW - Armenian forces in Nagorny Karabakh yesterday called off their offensive against Azeri troops, according to Interfax and Itar- Tass news agencies, AP reports. Previous unilateral ceasefires have quickly broken down.