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Armenian, Azerbaijani Clashes Continue In Karabakh

An Armenian soldier on a frontline position east of Karabakh (file photo)
STEPANAKERT -- Intense skirmishes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces around the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh continued on June 21, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

News reports said an Azerbaijani soldier was shot dead early today in what the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said was an Armenian attack on Azerbaijani Army positions in the Fizuli district southeast of Nagorno-Karabakh.

"The Armenians retreated, suffering losses," the Azeri-Press Agency said, citing the ministry.

Karabakh Armenian military officials insisted their forces suffered no fresh casualties on June 21, in the worst Armenian-Azerbaijani cease-fire violations in over two years.

The latest outbreak of violence began late last week.

Four Armenian soldiers and one Azerbaijani soldier were killed in what authorities in Stepanakert and Yerevan described as an overnight Azerbaijani assault on a Karabakh Armenian army outpost in the northeastern part of the breakaway Azerbaijani region on the night of June 18-19.

Exchanges of automatic and sniper gunfire along the main Armenian-Azerbaijani Line of Contact -- east and north of the disputed region -- appear to have intensified since then.

The Defense Army of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) claimed on June 21 that Azerbaijani troops breached the cease-fire regime as many as 284 times since June 20. An army spokesman told RFE/RL that none of its soldiers was hurt as a result of the violations.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed, however, it was the Armenians who fired at its forces using automatic rifles and machine guns in various sections of the heavily fortified frontline.

The Karabakh military has also identified the four Armenian conscripts who were killed on the night of June 18-19. The incident occurred just over a day after the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in St. Petersburg for peace talks hosted by their Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev.

Official Yerevan portrayed it as a further indication that the Azerbaijani leadership is "doing everything" to scuttle the Karabakh peace process mediated by Russia, the United States, and France. Officials in Baku dismissed the claim.

"Such skirmishes have taken place frequently of late," a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, Eldar Sabiroglu, told APA on June 20. "Armenian Army units retreated this time, suffering big losses."

Arman Melikian, a Yerevan-based former Nagorno-Karabakh foreign minister, called on June 21 for an official inquiry into the deadly clash.

"First of all, we must clarify why Azerbaijani special forces tried to break through Armenian positions in that area," he told RFE/RL. "Was it a weak link or are there some strategic facilities there? To what extent were our forces prepared to face such an attack?"

Echoing statements by other Armenian politicians and pundits, Melikian also said the reported Azerbaijani attack was aimed at intimidating the Karabakh Armenians and prodding the international community to seek more Armenian concessions to Azerbaijan.

"I think Azerbaijan and Turkey are in a great hurry to solve the [Nagorno-Karabakh] problem," Melikian said. "They understand that if a
breakthrough in their favor doesn't come within the next year, it will never come."

In an interview with RFE/RL, Peter Semneby, the EU's special representative to the South Caucasus, described the deadly weekend clash as "a deplorable event that should not have taken place."

Semneby was careful not to blame either conflicting party for the deadly fighting, citing the EU's lack of a "first-hand information source" on the