Azerbaijan and Armenia trade barbs over Karabakh deaths

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 06, 2011 5:23 PM
Azerbaijan and Armenia trade barbs over Karabakh deaths

By Lada Yevgrashina and Hasmik Mkrtchyan

BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenia and Azerbaijan traded accusations on Thursday after three soldiers were killed on a ceasefire line near the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region before a visit to the Caucasus by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The two Azeri soldiers and one Armenian soldier were killed late on Wednesday, raising tensions ahead of Sarkozy's arrival on a trip intended to promote peace.

The Azeri Defense Ministry accused Armenian forces of violating the ceasefire and shooting dead the two Azeri soldiers, ministry spokesman Teimur Abdullayev said.

Armenia blamed Azerbaijan for the tension, saying one of its soldiers was killed and two more were wounded by Azeri snipers.

"Azerbaijan ... puts the fragile stability of the region under threat," Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman David Karapetyan said.

Armenian-backed forces wrested Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly Armenian-populated enclave inside Azerbaijan, from Azeri control after the Soviet Union collapsed.

A ceasefire was reached in 1994 after 30,000 people had been killed and about 1 million had been driven from their homes.

Sarkozy is expected to discuss Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan in Yerevan on Thursday and with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in Baku on Friday, before a nearly three-hour stopover in Georgia.

France has a leading role in the Minsk Group of countries from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) which is trying to resolve the conflict.

The two sides failed to agree on a blueprint for a resolution of the conflict at talks in June and the angry rhetoric between them has worsened since then.

Nagorno-Karabakh has been run by a de facto government with support from Armenia since the end of the conflict in 1994.

(Writing by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi and Alissa de Carbonnel in Moscow; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

Corrects paragraph four to read 'Armenia blamed Azerbaijan' instead of 'Armenia blamed Armenia'