Fatal clashes stir Karabakh tension

Fatal clashes stir Karabakh tension

Fatal clashes stir Karabakh tension Azerbaijan and the Armenia-backed breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh yesterday bickered about how many of their soldiers had been killed in clashes that have stoked fears of a wider conflict breaking out in the South Caucasus.

Violence erupted last week with both sides accusing one other of starting the trouble, of using heavy weapons, and of killing each other’s soldiers in an area that is crisscrossed by oil and gas pipelines.

Yesterday, the Azeri Defense Ministry said three of its soldiers had been killed in the fighting, and that seven Armenian-backed soldiers from Karabakh had also been killed with many more wounded.

That assertion was challenged by the Defense Ministry in Nagorno-Karabakh. It said that more than 10 Azeri soldiers had been killed and several more wounded, denying it had suffered any casualties.

In an account that was disputed, Armenia said Azeri forces had also attacked several villages near the border between the two former Soviet republics, killing three civilians.

Nagorno-Karabakh has run its own affairs with heavy military and financial backing from Armenia since a separatist war ended in 1994. Armenian-backed forces hold seven Azeri districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.

The original conflict broke out in the dying years of the Soviet Union and has killed about 30,000 people. Efforts to reach a permanent settlement have failed despite mediation led by France, Russia and the United States.