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Armenian Leaders Visit Karabakh, Azerbaijan Conducts Military Exercises

Armenian soldiers on a front-line position near Nagorno-Karabakh, where fighting broke out one week ago.
YEREVAN -- Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian have visited Nagorno-Karabakh, almost one week after deadly fighting took place in the breakaway Azerbaijani region, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Official sources in Yerevan said Sarkisian and Ohanian held separate meetings with Karabakh's political and military leaders in Stepanakert, the region's capital. They gave no details of the talks.

A short statement by the Armenian presidential press office said Sarkisian also inaugurated a military base and visited a military hospital to see soldiers wounded in the June 18-19 clashes with Azerbaijani forces.

Four Armenian soldiers and one Azerbaijani soldier were killed in what the Armenian side says was an overnight Azerbaijani attack on Armenian positions in the northeastern part of the region. The fighting occurred the day after Sarkisian met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in St. Petersburg for peace talks.

Sarkisian condemned the incident as an Azerbaijani "provocation" and linked it with the talks hosted by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He also called for international condemnation of Azerbaijan.

The Azerbaijani military confirmed that clashes took place at the Karabakh outpost but blamed Armenian forces for the violent exchange. Officials in Baku also confirmed that the Azerbaijani serviceman was shot dead in Armenian-controlled territory.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan said it has conducted one of its biggest-ever military exercises monitored by President Aliyev.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said it completed the large-scale maneuvers involving thousands of troops, 100 tanks, 125 artillery pieces, and about two dozen warplanes. A ministry statement cited by Azerbaijani news agencies said they simulated a response to "military aggression against Azerbaijan" resulting in the restoration of the country's territorial integrity.

The statement added that Aliyev watched the "main phase" of the unpublicized exercises, which it said started on June 21.

And officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE) today monitored the volatile situation near the site of the violence, the worst Armenian-Azerbaijani cease-fire violation in two years.

The Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic said Karabakh Armenian officers at the scene briefed OSCE monitors on what they claimed was an "insidious attack by an Azerbaijani sabotage unit."

In a separate statement, the Karabakh army reported continuing skirmishes with Azerbaijani forces along various sections of the heavily fortified "line of contact." No casualties were reported.

The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group issued a statement on June 21 condemning "the use of force and...the senseless loss of life." It said such an incident is an "unacceptable violation of the 1994 cease-fire agreement and is contrary to the stated commitment of the sides to refrain from the use of force or the threat of the use of force."