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Armenian Military Vows 'Disproportionate' Response To Combat Deaths

Karabakh Armenian soldiers hold military exercises in the disputed territory.
YEREVAN -- The Armenian military has pledged to respond "disproportionately" to the deaths of two Armenian soldiers in skirmishes with Azerbaijani forces reported in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Karabakh's Armenia-backed army said the 19-year-old soldiers, Aren Simonian and Mihran Markarian, were shot dead by Azerbaijani snipers in separate incidents over the weekend. It said the shootings occurred on the Armenian-Azerbaijani "line of contact" southeast of the disputed territory.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry did not immediately comment on the reports.

In a written statement, the Karabakh Defense Army accused Baku of deliberately violating the cease-fire to torpedo international efforts to broker a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict. It said its forces would react to such violations with "tougher" actions in the future.

A separate statement issued by Armenia's Defense Ministry said, "Since Azerbaijan's political and military leadership does not care about the lives of its own soldiers, we have to remind Azerbaijan's population that as was the case before, the Armenian side's response to the death of every Armenian soldier will be disproportionate."

Defense Ministry spokesman Davit Karapetian spoke of "punitive actions" to be taken against Azerbaijani troops. "That is going to be our natural and legitimate reaction," he told RFE/RL. "And if the Azerbaijani side suffers casualties as a result of that, it will be fully responsible for them."

Armenian and Karabakh forces were ordered to launch such retaliatory operations following the killing of three Armenian soldiers near Karabakh in May.

"Unfortunately, the Azerbaijani side hasn't learned lessons from previous adventures as a result of which it suffered much greater casualties," Karapetian said. "This testifies to their irresponsible attitude."

Defense Ministry sources in Yerevan claim that 42 Azerbaijani troops have been killed on the Karabakh front line and along Armenia's long border with Azerbaijan so far this year.

The Azerbaijani military has not released any casualty data for 2011.

Earlier this month, the Baku daily "Zerkalo" quoted an independent military expert, Uzeir Jafarov, as saying that 13 Azerbaijani soldiers were shot dead by Armenians while 76 others died in noncombat circumstances in 2011.

"Our losses during the less than 11 months of this year surpassed those of the previous two years," Jafarov said. "This is frightening."

The military authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert are likewise reluctant to publicize the Armenian combat death toll. Armenian human rights groups estimated before the latest deadly fighting in Karabakh that nine Armenian soldiers have died in action since December 2010.

The skirmishes highlight the lingering threat of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war, which is prompting growing concern from the world community.

They came less than a month after U.S., Russian, and French mediators said the conflicting parties had agreed in principle to a "draft mechanism to investigate incidents along the front lines."

The three co-chairs announced that following a visit to Baku, Yerevan, and Stepanakert. Armenian and Azerbaijani officials made no statements to that effect.