Armenia and Azerbaijan have blamed each other for gunfire along their restive border days in advance of EU-hosted talks aimed at resolving their 30-year-old territorial dispute.
The fighting came on Thursday as the two countries are in negotiations on a peace agreement to end a decades-long standoff over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated mainly by Armenians.
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“Azerbaijani forces are shooting artillery and mortars at Armenian position in the Sotk region” in the east, Armenia’s defence ministry said in a statement on Thursday, adding four of its soldiers were wounded.
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said “the Armenian side has once again violated the ceasefire agreement” with “large-calibre weapons”.
“A soldier from the Azerbaijani army was killed after a provocation from the Armenian forces,” Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said in a statement.
The upcoming talks
The incident comes just days before European Council President Charles Michel is to host Armenia’s Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev for talks in Brussels on Saturday.
The two also agreed to meet together with the leaders of France and Germany on the sidelines of a European summit in Moldova on June 1, according to the European Union.
The EU-hosted meeting comes after the United States said “tangible progress” had been made at talks between foreign ministers in Washington, DC last week aimed at ending the dispute over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenia and Azerbaijan were both republics of the Soviet Union that gained independence in 1991 when the USSR broke up.
They have gone to war twice over disputed territories, mainly Nagorno-Karabakh, a majority-Armenian region inside Azerbaijan.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in two wars over the region, one lasting six years and ending in 1994, and the second in 2020, which ended in a Russia-negotiated ceasefire deal. But clashes have broken out regularly since then.
Western mediation efforts to resolve the conflict come as major regional power Russia has struggled to maintain its decisive influence because of the fallout from its war on Ukraine.