BAKU/YEREVAN Feb 27 Five Azeri soldiers were
killed in clashes with Armenia-backed separatists along the
boundary with the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region,
Azerbaijan's defence ministry said on Monday, with each side
accusing the other of an attempted incursion.
Clashes over control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which
lies inside Azerbaijan but it is controlled by ethnic Armenians,
have stoked fears of a wider conflict breaking out in the South
Caucasus, which is crisscrossed by oil and gas pipelines.
The Azeri defence ministry said that clashes occurred in the
early hours of Saturday, in the remote Khojavend and Fizuli
regions and that separatists were still preventing evacuation of
five dead Azeri soldiers from the no-man's land.
"Evacuation of bodies did not take place because the Azeri
side violated agreements," the Nagorno-Karabakh separatists said
in a statement.
The breakaway region's self-declared defence ministry
accused the Azeri military of trying to infiltrate its territory
and said there were no casualties on their side.
International mediators from the OSCE Minsk Group called on
the two sides "to keep heavy military equipment in its present
positions and to allow recovery of the dead."
Fighting between ethnic Azeris and Armenians first erupted
in 1991 and a ceasefire was agreed in 1994. But Azerbaijan and
Armenia have regularly traded accusations of violence around
Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Azeri-Armenian border.
The ceasefire was broken last April when dozens were killed.
Efforts to secure a permanent settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict have failed despite mediation led by France, Russia and
the United States.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova and Hasmik Mkrtchyan; additional
reporting and writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by
Aleksandar Vasovic and Dominic Evans)