Azerbaijani journalists, official killed in landmine explosion

Three killed and four wounded after anti-tank mine explodes in the Kalbajar region.

Friday's incident came amid a simmering border dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, who fought a six-week war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region last year [File: Karen Minasyan/AFP]

A landmine explosion in Azerbaijan’s Kalbajar region, west of Nagorno-Karabakh, has killed two Azerbaijani journalists and an official, authorities said.

Four others were injured in Friday’s incident, which saw an anti-tank mine blow up a truck at about 11am local time (07:00GMT), Azerbaijan’s interior ministry and the office of the prosecutor general said in a statement.

The three victims were identified as local official Arif Aliyev, Maharram Ibrahimov, a reporter working for state news agency AzerTag, and Siraj Abishov, a journalist with the state-run AzTV station.

The blast came amid a border dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which fought a six-week war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region last year.

Jeyhun Bayramov, Azerbaijan’s foreign minister, said he was “deeply saddened” as he called on Armenia to hand over maps locating mined areas.

The Azerbaijani government has repeatedly accused Armenia of refusing to submit such maps.

“Every day they continue to refuse this request, more lives are endangered!” Bayramov tweeted.

Similarly, Arif Aliyev, head of the Yeni Nesil (New Generation) Journalists Union, said the reporters should have had access to maps of mined areas.

“I am blaming the international community and organisations,” Aliyev said. “Months have already passed and we still cannot get maps of mined areas.”

Kalbajar is one of the regions that was handed back to Azerbaijan after last year’s conflict.

Elchin Shikhly, head of the Azerbaijani Journalists Union, accused the Armenian state of “violating international law”.

“The mines have been planted recently in that area of Kalbajar,” Shikhly told Al Jazeera.

“This means that Armenia is engaged in terrorism and sabotage at the state level. The international community must urgently react to this issue.”

At the time of publishing, Armenian officials had not offered any comment on the explosion.

Border dispute

Throughout their decades-long conflict, Azerbaijan and Armenia have often denied the other side’s claims.

Azerbaijan a week ago said one of its soldiers was wounded after Armenian forces opened fire along the neighbours’ shared border, accusations that Yerevan denied.

The alleged incident came a day after Azerbaijan captured six Armenian servicemen in Kalbajar.

Armenia said its forces were carrying out engineering work in the area, while Azerbaijan said the soldiers were part of a “reconnaissance and sabotage group”.

Yerevan also claimed last week that one of its soldiers was killed after shooting broke out with Azerbaijan’s forces, an incident Baku denied responsibility for.

In early May, Armenia accused Azerbaijan’s military of crossing its southern border to “lay siege” to a lake shared by the two countries.

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

The latest tensions come after last year’s conflict between the rivals, which ended in November.

Azerbaijan was viewed as winning the war, with its troops driving ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had controlled since the 1990s in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, even by Armenia, but is populated by ethnic Armenians.

Russia eventually brokered a ceasefire to bring the fighting to a halt, which locked in Azerbaijan’s territorial gains.

The conflict killed more than 6,000 people on both sides and led to a political crisis in Armenia, where Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was widely castigated for what was seen by many as a humiliating defeat.

Pashinyan, 45, said he had no choice but to concede or see his country’s forces suffer even bigger losses.

Pashinyan announced snap parliamentary polls under pressure from opposition protesters in the wake of last year’s conflict.

The election is scheduled for June 20.

Referred to as the First Nagorno-Karabakh war, Armenia fought with Azerbaijan over the region in the 1990s in a conflict which killed at least 30,000 people.

Heavy battles in 2016 lasted for four days in April of that year, and last year’s clashes marked the worst fighting since the mid-1990s.

Additional reporting by Seymur Kazimov in Baku.

Source: Al Jazeera