By Associated Press - Monday, July 13, 2020

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) - Armenia and Azerbaijan blamed each other Monday for skirmishes on their volatile border that has left four Azerbaijani soldiers dead and several troops wounded on both sides.

The two neighbors in the South Caucasus have been locked in conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan that has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. International efforts to settle the conflict have stalled.

Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have frequently engaged in clashes. In 2016, scores were killed in four days of fighting.

The latest incident began Sunday when Armenian and Azerbaijani troops exchanged fire in the northern section of their border. Officials in both countries blamed each other for starting the fighting and said that sporadic shelling continued Monday.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said that four of its soldiers have been killed in Armenian shelling since Sunday and another one later died in a hospital. It said five Azerbaijani servicemen were wounded.

Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said Monday that two Armenian troops were wounded. Hayk Chobanyan, the governor of Armenia’s Tavush region where the clashes occurred, later said that three other servicemen were wounded.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Azerbaijan of provoking the clashes and warned that it would “bear responsibility for the unpredictable consequences.”

Azerbaijani President Ilhan Aliyev denounced what he described as “another provocation of Armenia” and vowed to protect Azerbaijan’s national territory.

Turkey, which has close ethnic and cultural ties with Azerbaijan, voiced strong support to Baku in the conflict.

“What Armenia did is unacceptable. It must get back to its senses,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with state broadcaster TRT. “Azerbaijan is not alone. The Turkish Republic and the Turkish people, is with Azerbaijan with all of its capabilities.”

The United States condement the violence. “We urge the sides to stop using force immediately, use the existing direct communication links between them to avoid further escalation, and strictly adhere to the ceasefire,” said State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus in a statement.

In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed “serious concern” about the outbreak of fighting and warned against further escalation that could undermine regional security.

Russia has maintained close ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan and has been part of the so-called Minsk group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe alongside the U.S. and France, which has tried to mediate a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Toivo Klaar, the European Union’s special representative for the South Caucasus, voiced concern about the exchange of fire on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, tweeting that it’s “important for both countries to show restraint and to use all channels of communication, both direct and the good offices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs.

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