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Azerbaijan, Armenia locked in deadly clashes over Karabakh

epa05242132 Armenian volunteers receive uniforms and weapons at a military commissariat to join the self-defense army of Nagorno-Karabakh in Yerevan, Armenia, 03 April 2016. According to media reports, dozens have died during clashes that erupted on 01 April 2016 as part of a territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Azerbaijan armed forces reportedly attacked self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which has been controlled by ethnic Armenians since 1994. Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a ceasefire.  EPA/HAYK BAGHDASARYAN / PHOTOLURE

Baku / Bloomberg

Deadly clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces over the NagornyKarabakh region continued for a third day on Monday despite international pressure to halt the worst fighting in decades over the disputed territory.
Azerbaijan said three of its troops were killed overnight when Armenian forces shelled its positions using mortars and grenade launchers, taking the overall death toll in the latest surge of violence to at least 36.
“In the event of continued Armenian provocations, we will launch a full-scale operation along the entire front line, using all kinds of weapons,” Azerbaijan’s defence ministry spokesman VagifDargahly told journalists.
The Armenia-backed separatist authorities in Karabakh—which claims independence but is backed by Yerevan—said that Azeri troops “intensified shelling of the Karabakh army positions on Monday morning, using 152-millimetre mortars, rocket-propelled artillery and tanks”.
The fresh outbreak of fighting over the region—which was seized by Armenian rebels from Azerbaijan in a war that ended with an inconclusive truce in 1994—erupted on Friday night with the two sides accusing each other of attacking with heavy weaponry.
Azerbaijan claimed to have snatched several strategic positions inside the Armenian-controlled territory—internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan—in what would be the first change in the front line since the ceasefire 22 years ago.
In the Armenian capital of Yerevan, defence ministry spokesman ArtsrunHovhannisyan said on Monday that Karabakh forces had “seriously advanced at certain sectors of the front line and took up new positions”.
The report was quickly dismissed as “untrue” by Azerbaijan.
Russia and the West have called for a ceasefire, with President Vladimir Putin, a key power broker, pushing for an immediate end to the fighting, and Moscow’s diplomats and military pressuring both sides.
“We are continuing contacts with Baku and Yerevan so that they hear the signals from Moscow, Washington and Paris,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday, mentioning the three capitals that have long mediated the conflict.
At least 18 Armenian, 15 Azeri troops and three civilians were reported killed, and one of Azerbaijan’s attack helicopters was shot down.
Both sides claimed to have inflicted heavy losses in manpower and military hardware on each other.
On Sunday, Azerbaijan said it had decided to “unilaterally cease hostilities” and pledged to “reinforce” the positions it claimed to have captured.
The authorities in Karabakh—which claims independence but is heavily backed by Armenia—said they were willing to discuss a ceasefire but only if it saw them regain their territory.
‘Geopolitical implications’
Ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control of the mountainous NagornyKarabakh region in an early 1990s war that claimed some 30,000 lives. The foes have never signed a peace deal despite the 1994 ceasefire.
Sporadic clashes happen regularly along the front but the latest outbreak represents a serious escalation and analysts warned it risked spiralling quickly.
“The Karabakh conflict has serious geopolitical implications,” SergiKapanadze, a professor of international relations at the Tbilisi State University, said.
The flare-up “threatens the stability of the strategic Caucasus region which is a transit route of Caspian oil and gas to European markets that bypasses Russia, reducing Europe’s dependence on Russian energy supplies,” he said.

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