Five Azeri soldiers were killed in a border clash with Armenian soldiers in the deadliest incident between the neighbors in four years as visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of risks of a regional conflict.
The servicemen were killed while repelling an attack by an Armenian “saboteur” squad in the western Qazax district early today, Teymur Abdullayev, a spokesman for the Azeri Defense Ministry, said by phone. Armenia’s Defense Ministry said three soldiers were killed yesterday by an “invading” Azeri group.
Energy-rich Azerbaijan fought a war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly ethnic Armenian-populated region that broke free of Baku’s control after the disintegration of the former Soviet Union in 1991. Clinton, who is visiting the South Caucasus region this week, said yesterday that sporadic violence along the militarized cease-fire line threatens to turn into a broader conflict.
“I am very concerned about the danger of escalation of tensions and the senseless deaths of young soldiers and innocent civilians,” Clinton said at a joint briefing with her Armenian counterpart, Eduard Nalbandian, in the capital, Yerevan. “The use of force will not resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and therefore force must not be used.”
The territory remains a potential flash point in a region where Russia fought a five-day war with Georgia in 2008 after separatist tensions flared up. While the hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan largely ended after a Russia-brokered cease-fire in 1994, the countries have failed to reach a peace agreement.
Clinton is also visiting Georgia and Azerbaijan during her trip this week. Companies led by London-based BP Plc (BP/) have invested about $35 billion in Azerbaijan’s oil and gas fields since 1991.
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