Two aid convoys for Karabakh could set off 'within hours' if road is unblocked - Azerbaijan

ICRC members drive an off-road vehicle in the town of Hadrut in Nagorno-Karabakh

GENEVA (Reuters) - Azerbaijan said on Wednesday that two humanitarian aid convoys for the ethnic Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh enclave could set off "within hours" - one from Armenia, and one from its own territory - if a road from the Azerbaijani side is unblocked.

Internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but run by ethnic Armenian authorities, Karabakh is at the centre of a rancorous stand-off, with Azerbaijan restricting movement along the only road to it from Armenia to thwart what it says is arms smuggling. Yerevan says that has caused acute food shortages.

Baku said last week it would be ready to allow Red Cross aid from Armenia into Karabakh if Red Crescent aid from Azerbaijan was let in at the same time.

Speaking on the sidelines of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov said that Azerbaijan was ready for such humanitarian convoys to be conducted "on a regular basis" and had authorised the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to make such deliveries.

"(The) ICRC is ready to organise two parallel convoys within several hours," Bayramov said. "The green light from the Azerbaijani government exists."

Bayramov said that ethnic Armenians needed to unblock the road between Aghdam and Karabakh, but that it was unclear when that might happen.

"It may be within the next several hours, within the next several days," he said.

Bayramov's comments come a day after a Russian Red Cross truck carrying blankets, toiletries and food parcels crossed from the Azerbaijani side into Karabakh, the first time in 35 years that the breakaway area had allowed such access.

The delivery brought some relief to Karabakh residents who have been cut off from fresh supplies for nine months since a de facto Azerbaijani blockade of the "Lachin corridor" access road from Armenia, known as "the road of life" by Karabakh Armenians.

Baku denies imposing a blockade, saying it has allowed the Red Cross to evacuate people to Armenia for medical treatment via the corridor and that, according to its own information, there is no shortage of basic food staples.

Armenia says Baku's actions have however caused acute shortages of food, medicine and other essentials.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn)