BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) - Two soldiers from the Armenian-backed breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region have been killed in clashes with the Azeri army, the separatists' defense ministry said on Friday.
The Azeri defense ministry accused separatists of provoking the confrontation and said that two Armenian soldiers were killed and several were wounded late on Thursday.
Clashes around Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies inside Azerbaijan but is controlled by a majority of ethnic Armenians, are stoking fears of a wider conflict breaking out in the South Caucasus, which is crossed by oil and gas pipelines.
Nagorno-Karabakh has run its own affairs with heavy military and financial backing from Armenia since a separatist war ended in 1994. Its Armenian-backed forces hold seven Azeri districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.
The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh broke out in the dying years of the Soviet Union and has killed about 30,000 people. Efforts to reach a permanent settlement have failed despite mediation led by France, Russia and the United States.
Oil-producing Azerbaijan, host to global oil companies including BP Plc, Chevron Corp and ExxonMobil Corp, frequently threatens to take the mountain region back by force, and is spending heavily on its armed forces.
(Reporting by Hasmik Mkrtchyan in Yerevan and Nailia Bagirova in Baku; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Toby Chopra)