Azerbaijan's defense ministry said Tuesday that five of its soldiers have been killed in two separate clashes with Armenian troops along the border separating the two nations.
The ministry said four Azerbaijani soldiers were killed in fighting with an "Armenian sabotage group" attempting to enter Azerbaijani military positions in the village of Asagi Askipara in the country's western Qazax district.
The ministry said the infiltrating Armenian group had retreated after suffering causalities in the fighting with Azerbaijani troops. A fifth Azerbaijani soldier was reported killed in a separate shooting incident in Qazax district, but Azerbaijan did not provide further details.
Nevertheless, Armenia's defense ministry rejected the Azerbaijani claims and insisted that its troops were only responding to an incursion attempt made by a group of "armed diversionists" trying to "invade Armenian territory" in the Tovuz district. Armenia claimed the Azerbaijani group was "neutralized," adding that none of its soldiers were killed or injured in the fighting.
The fighting marked the second day of border clashes along the Azerbaijan-Armenia border. Armenia had said earlier that three of its soldiers were killed in border clashes with Azerbaijani troops on Monday. Soldiers from both sides were said to have suffered injuries in the fighting.
In wake of two days of deadly border clashes, Azerbaijan's foreign minister Elmar Mammadyarov told reporters that he will discuss the issue with his Armenian counterpart when the two meet in Paris on June 18 for mediated talks aimed at finding a long-term solution to their dispute.
The latest development comes amidst a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the South Caucasus as part of Washington's efforts to resolve territorial disputes in the region. She is currently In Georgia after visiting Armenia on Monday, and is due to arrive in Azerbaijan on Wednesday.
While in Armenia on Monday, Clinton said: "I am very concerned by these incidents and have called on all parties, all actors, to refrain from the use or threat of force. There is a danger that it could escalate into a much broader conflict that would be very tragic for everyone concerned."
Armenia and Azerbaijan had fought a war over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s. Armenian troops are currently occupying the enclave after they helped Armenian separatists to seize control from Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. The war for the enclave resulted in the death of nearly 30,000 people and forced two million others to flee their homes.
Though the two countries signed a ceasefire agreement in May 1994, the dispute remains unresolved despite continued international efforts spearheaded by Russia, France and the US. While Azerbaijan demands an immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from the enclave, Armenia insists on the territory's independence.
by RTT Staff Writer
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