Azerbaijan-Armenian Clashes Over Land Kill Up to 30 Soldiers

  • Flareup worst in almost two decades between ex-Soviet states
  • U.S., Russian, French diplomats decry ``senseless'' deaths

The worst clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia in almost two decades over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh escalated overnight with heavy shelling that killed as many as 30 soldiers and at least two civilians.

Each side blamed the other for starting the attacks, which targeted civilian areas and military units across the contact line of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said on its website that the clashes were triggered by Armenian shelling and confirmed one of two helicopter downings claimed by Armenia.

Armenia first reported the attacks, which it called “unprecedented and aggressive” and said they may lead to “unpredictable consequences” if they continue. The Foreign Ministry called for international intervention.

The fighting threatens to reignite full-scale fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-majority territory that broke away from Azeri control over two decades ago. Oil-exporting Azerbaijan and landlocked Armenia fought a war over Nagorno-Karabakh after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 that left tens of thousands of people dead and more than a million displaced. The territory remains a potential flashpoint in a region where Russia in 2008 fought a five-day war with Georgia after separatist tensions flared up.

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan told a national security meeting late Saturday that 18 troops were killed and 35 were wounded in the fighting. Government officials said one child died and six civilians were injured.

Azerbaijan lost 12 troops, a helicopter and a tank, and took control of several strategic army positions and a village from Armenians in the northeast and southeast of the Nagorno-Karabakh region in a "counter-attack" early Saturday, the Defense Ministry said in a website statement.

U.S., Russian and French diplomats mediating peace talks in an e-mail on Saturday urged both sides to end the shooting and resume talks.

“We strongly condemn the use of force and regret the senseless loss of life, including civilians,’’ the mediators said.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s Defense Ministry said two Azeri helicopters, two drones and three tanks were destroyed in skirmishes along the southern and northeastern parts of the contact line.

Armenia denied any loss of tanks, artillery units, villages or military positions, Defense Ministry Spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan told Bloomberg by phone.

Azerbaijan’s APA news agency said a civilian was killed and a child was injured in the Tartar district, northeast of Nagorno-Karabakh, when Armenians shelled a village.

Both sides have suffered casualties in this week’s fighting. Two Armenian servicemen were killed by Azeri fire April 1 in Armenia and Karabakh, Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan said on Facebook.

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