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Armenian President Promises Action Over Border Killings

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has condemned the fatal shootings of three Armenian soldiers near the border with Azerbaijan, hinting that the gunfire came from Azerbaijan.

Sarkisian said Armenia has "a strong army and we will resort to relevant steps."

Sarkisian's remarks came as three Armenian soldiers and one Azerbaijani army officer were shot dead in separate incidents reported by the military authorities in Yerevan and Baku on April 27.

The Armenian Defense Ministry said the soldiers were fatally wounded when a private car carrying them came under fire near a western section of Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan in the early hours of April 27.

It said the car belonging to one of them was found riddled with bullets on a road connecting two border villages in the northeastern Tavush region.

Andranik Aydinian, the mayor of one of those villages, Aygepar, said he heard gunfire coming from Azerbaijani army positions in the area shortly after midnight. "The Azerbaijani positions are close to the road," he told RFE/RL's Armenian Service by phone.

Aydinian cut short the phone interview, alleging renewed Azerbaijani gunfire and saying that he needed to tell villagers to take cover.

In a statement, the Defense Ministry did not say whether it thinks the three servicemen were shot and killed by Azerbaijani troops. It said only that military investigators have launched an inquiry.

'Cease-Fire Violations'

But President Serzh Sarkisian did implicitly blame Azerbaijan for the deaths and pledge retaliation later in the day.

"Our territory continues to be shot at from Azerbaijani positions these days," Sarkisian said during an election campaign trip to another northern province, Lori.

"You are aware of the latest incidents," he told local residents, according to "First a kindergarten [in Tavush] came under fire, then an ambulance, and last night we lost three contracted soldiers in Tavush."

"I don’t think anyone in our country doubts the inevitability of our appropriate reaction," he said. “I don’t think anyone doubts the power of our defense forces."

Sarkisian seemed to accuse Azerbaijan of trying to capitalize on the parliamentary election campaign going on in Armenia.

"Let nobody think that they can take advantage of processes taking place in our country and that because it’s election time here we are distracted by it," he said.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry, meanwhile, reported that an Azerbaijani army lieutenant was killed by Armenian forces deployed east of the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh on April 26.

Azerbaijani news agencies cited the ministry as saying that 24-year-old Vagif Abdullayev died as a result of an Armenian cease-fire violation.

There was no immediate reaction to the report from the military authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert, the capital city of Nagorno-Karabakh..

Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army on April 26 accused the Azerbaijani armed forces of intensifying truce violations in recent days.

It said two Karabakh Armenian soldiers were wounded on April 24.

The OSCE Minsk Group, which mediates in the conflict, said the killings were "senseless acts" that violate the commitments of both countries to seek a peaceful settlement.

With reporting by Interfax and AFP

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