Truce Shaken as Azeris Say Soldier Killed in Armenian Attack

  • Azeri Defense Ministry vows `devastating' retaliation
  • Unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh says it's observing cease-fire

Azerbaijan said one of its servicemen was shot and killed Thursday by Armenian fire, the first death it has reported since an April 5 cease-fire calmed an outbreak of violence between the two countries over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory.

The Azeri Defense Ministry condemned the attack as a “bloody provocation” and vowed a “devastating” strike in retaliation, according to a statement on its website. Armenia said Azerbaijan had violated the cease-fire overnight and staged a sabotage attack, while the spokesman for the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh’s Defense Ministry, Senor Hasratyan, said the territory was observing the truce. The Armenian death toll since April 1 has climbed to 92, it said.

The death threatens to disrupt the Russian-brokered truce that ended five days of fighting that killed scores of soldiers and civilians in the worst violence between the Caucasus neighbors in 22 years. The clashes between Armenia, a Russian ally, and Azerbaijan, which has stronger ties to NATO member Turkey, also raise security risks to a new energy corridor between central Asia and Europe.

“The truce did not resolve any major political issues,” Thomas de Waal, a senior associate with Carnegie Europe specializing in eastern Europe and the Caucasus region, said by e-mail. “Serious fighting can resume at any moment.”

The tensions date back to the dying days of the Soviet Union, when a dispute over the territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan flared into a war that killed 30,000 and created a million refugees. Armenians took over Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts from Azerbaijan in the 1991-1994 conflict, which has never been solved with a lasting truce. Armenia backs a desire by Christian Armenians in the enclave for self-determination from largely-Muslim Azerbaijan. The latter demands respect for its territorial integrity.

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