Bloody clashes erupted Saturday between Azerbaijani forces and Armenian separatists over the breakaway Nagorny Karabakh region, claiming the lives of several Azerbaijani servicemen, Baku and rebel officials said. Ex-Soviet Azerbaijan and Armenia are locked in a protracted conflict over the disputed region, and frequent exchanges of fire nearly spiralled into all-out war last year. Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said “Armenian forces attempted an intrusion into Azerbaijani territory along the Karabakh frontline” in the early hours of Saturday.
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“Fierce clashes erupted at the frontline’s Khojavend-Fizuli sector,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that Azerbaijani military “suffered losses in manpower as they courageously repelled the enemy’s attack.” “The enemy continues shelling Azerbaijani positions from heavy artillery,” it said. Armenia’s defence ministry, for its part, accused Baku of attacking Karabakh army positions along the south-eastern and eastern sectors of the frontline.
“Azerbaijan’s political and military leadership is increasing tensions at the frontline and spreads disinformation,” the ministry said.
“Armenia is committed to the ceasefire and calls on the Azerbaijani side to refrain from steps that would further escalate the situation.”
The rebel defence ministry in Karabakh said its forces have “repelled the enemy who suffered losses. Several corpses of Azerbaijani soldiers remain at the neutral territory.” The latest clash came after three Armenian soldiers were killed in fighting with Azerbaijani troops on December 29.
In April last year, at least 110 people from both sides were killed as simmering violence flared into the worst clashes in decades over the region. A Russian-brokered ceasefire ended the four days of fierce fighting in April but attempts to relaunch the stalled peace process since then have failed.
Baku and Yerevan have feuded over the Nagorny Karabakh region since Armenian separatists seized the territory in a war that claimed some 30,000 lives in the early 1990s and ended in a fragile 1994 truce. The two sides never signed a firm peace deal.
Energy-rich Azerbaijan, whose military spending exceeds Armenia’s entire state budget, has repeatedly threatened to take back the breakaway region by force. But Moscow-allied Armenia has vowed to crush any military offensive.