Azerbaijan announces military exercises ahead of Nagorno-Karabakh talks

Reuters News
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Posted: May 15, 2016 9:21 AM

BAKU (Reuters) - Azerbaijan on Sunday announced joint military exercises with Georgia and Turkey, plans which are likely to raise tensions with neighboring Armenia a day before talks in Vienna over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The territory, which lies inside Azerbaijan but is controlled by ethnic Armenians, has run its own affairs with heavy military and financial backing from Armenia since a separatist war ended in 1994.

A ceasefire agreed on April 5 after an outbreak of fighting has been violated every day, say locals.

"To increase the combat capabilities and combat readiness of the Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia, we deemed it worthwhile to carry out joint military exercises," Azeri Defense Minister Zakir Gasanov said on Sunday.

It was not immediately clear when the exercises, which have also taken place in past years, would be carried out.

A spokesman for the Armenian Defense Ministry did not comment on the implication of the exercises for Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.

Several soldiers, from both sides, have been killed in exchanges of fire since the ceasefire was declared. An Azeri soldier was killed on Thursday near Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said on Friday.

Armenia said its serviceman Aram Ohanyan died of wounds on Saturday after being shot by an Azeri sniper near southwestern Armenian border, in an incident unrelated to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Both the Azeri and Armenian presidents, as well as diplomats from Russia, the United States and France, will meet in Vienna on Monday to discuss the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova in Baku and Hasmik Mkrtchyan in Yeravan; Writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Ros Russell)