Four Armenian soldiers have been killed in a fire fight with Azeri forces on the two countries’ shared border, threatening to destabilise efforts to defuse a 30-year conflict.
The longtime Caucasian rivals accused one another on Tuesday of sparking the incident. It is the first violence reported on the volatile border since peace talks opened last year in a bid to end the longstanding fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
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Armenia’s Ministry of Defence reported that four soldiers were killed and one wounded on Monday at a post in the southern region of Syunik.
“Units of the Azerbaijani armed forces discharged fire from small arms towards the Armenian combat positions in the vicinity of Nerkin Hand [a village],” Armenia’s Defence Ministry said in a statement.
Azerbaijan claimed that it had launched the “revenge operation” after Armenian forces had earlier opened fire across the heavily militarised border further north.
Baku’s Ministry of Defence said that Armenian forces had fired at its troop positions along a northwestern section of the border, about 300km (186 miles) from Nerkin Hand.
Armenia denied that any such an incident took place.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in conflict for more than three decades over Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed landlocked mountainous region in the South Caucasus.
Claimed by both after the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917 and then the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the region has remained a point of tension ever since.
The pair fought wars in the 1990s and then 2020 over the region. Azerbaijan captured it in a lightning offensive last year.
Almost the entire ethnic-Armenian population – more than 100,00 people – fled following Baku’s takeover, sparking a refugee crisis.
That led to a renewed push from both sides for a treaty to formally end the conflict.
But the peace talks have appeared to stagnate in recent months, with both sides accusing the other of sabotaging the diplomatic process.