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Soldier From Breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Goes To Azerbaijani Side

BAKU -- Authorities in Azerbaijan and its breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh territory say a soldier from that region has crossed over to the Azerbaijani-controlled side.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on March 23 that a contract soldier with the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh forces had defected, identifying him as Andranik Grigorian.

Video on the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry's website shows a man calling himself Grigorian holding a makeshift white flag and walking toward what appears to be an Azerbaijani military post.

In another video on the ministry website, Grigorian is shown talking to interrogators in broken Russian, saying that he decided to defect because he had been beaten by fellow soldiers and did not want "to die."

Grigorian said another Nagorno-Karabakh soldier who wanted to defect along with him had later decided not to do so.

Nagorno-Karabakh's de facto Defense Ministry confirmed on March 22 that one of its soldiers had left his post and crossed the Line of Contact into territory controlled by Azerbaijani troops.

The separatist Defense Ministry also said another soldier from the breakaway region, Haik Markarian, had unexpectedly lost consciousness and died while in transport to a hospital on March 22.

The reports come days after the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry accused forces in the breakaway region of triggering the confrontation, claiming that 20 Karabakh soldiers had been killed or wounded on March 19.

Meanwhile, Nagorno-Karabakh's de facto Defense Ministry said on March 19 that Azerbaijani commandos attacked its soldiers' positions the same day, killing three soldiers and wounding four others.

Baku and Yerevan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for nearly 25 years.

Armenia-backed separatists seized the mainly ethnic Armenian-populated region during a war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000 people.

International diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict have brought little progress.

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