Armenian and Azerbaijani Forces Clash

  • AP foreign
  • , Tuesday March 4 2008


Associated Press Writer

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) - Ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani forces exchanged fire for hours Tuesday near the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, officials in the neighboring former Soviet republics said.

A spokesman for Nagorno-Karabakh's military force said eight Azerbaijani soldiers were killed, but Azerbaijani officials declined to comment on casualties. A local media report in Azerbaijan said three Azerbaijani soldiers were killed.

The clashes came as Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliev, issued his latest suggestion that his country could use force to regain control over Nagorno-Karabakh. The region is inside Azerbaijan but has been under ethnic Armenian control since a 1994 cease-fire ended a six-year war.

Statements by officials on both sides suggested the fighting was heavier than most of the skirmishes that intermittently break out along a cease-fire line dividing territory held by rival forces.

Armenia's foreign minister, Vardan Oskanian, said Azerbaijani forces attacked Armenian positions northeast of Nagorno-Karabakh early Tuesday, wounding several Armenian servicemen.

Serge Sarkisian, Armenia's prime minister and president-elect, said later that Azerbaijani forces briefly seized positions held by forces of separatist Nagorno-Karabakh, but the ethnic Armenians regained control in a counteroffensive.

Nagorno-Karabakh military spokesman Senor Asratian said eight Azerbaijani soldiers were killed and two of the separatist region's soldiers were wounded.

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry accused the Armenian forces of starting the fighting. Ministry spokesman Ilgar Verdiyev said it continued into the evening and refused to comment on casualties.

The private Azerbaijani television station Leader reported that three Azerbaijani soldiers were killed.

Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Seyran Shakhsuvarian said the fighting subsided by late evening. However, Asratian said Azerbaijani forces targeted ethnic-Armenian positions with mortar and machine-gun fire shortly before midnight.

Armenian and local ethnic Armenian forces drove the Azerbaijani army out of Nagorno-Karabakh in one of the bloodiest conflicts of the post-Soviet era. Some 30,000 people were killed and about 1 million were driven from their homes during six years of fighting that ended with the 1994 cease-fire.

Azerbaijan and Armenia remain locked in their dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh - whose separatist ethnic Armenian government is not recognized internationally - despite more than a decade of efforts by foreign mediators led by the United States, Russia and France.

Gunfire breaks out regularly along the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia and in regions near Nagorno-Karabakh, often resulting in small numbers of casualties. The lack of a settlement of the region's status prompts persistent fears of a new war.


Associated Press writer Avet Demourian in Yerevan, Armenia, contributed to this report.

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