Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan

Three Armenian soldiers were killed in border clashes with Azerbaijani forces yesterday.

Three Armenian soldiers were killed in border clashes with Azerbaijani forces yesterday in some of the heaviest fighting between the Caucasus rivals since last year's war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The defense ministries of both countries reported the clashes and blamed each other for initiating them before a ceasefire with the mediation of Russia several hours later.

Tensions have been running high along the border in recent weeks, with a series of reported shootouts.

Last year's six-week war over Nagorno-Karabakh claimed some 6,500 lives before it ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire that saw Armenia cede territories it had controlled for decades.

Armenia has accused Azerbaijani forces of a series of border intrusions since the war and of seizing pockets of territory including along a lake shared by the two countries.

Armenia's defence ministry said an intense firefight had taken place yesterday near the village of Sotk close to the border with Azerbaijan's Kelbajar region, one of those Baku reclaimed after the war.

As of 8:30am yesterday three Armenian soldiers were dead and two wounded, the ministry said in a statement.

"The Azerbaijani side is deliberately escalating the situation as its forces remain illegally on Armenia's sovereign territory," Armenia's foreign ministry said.

Azerbaijan's defence ministry said Armenian forces had opened fire towards Azerbaijani positions in Kelbajar in the early hours of yesterday and that two of its servicemen had been wounded.

It claimed Armenian military shelled its positions from tanks and 120-millimeter mortars.

"Armenia bears full responsibility for the escalation of tensions," it said.

By noon, both countries said a ceasefire was achieved thanks to mediation by Russian peacekeepers.

"An agreement to restore the ceasefire at the northeastern sector of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border has been achieved with the mediation of the peacekeeping forces of the Russian Federation," said Armenia's defense ministry.

Azerbaijan also said it has agreed to a Russian initiative to halt armed action.

The clashes have raised fears of another flare-up in the decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian region of Azerbaijan that broke away from Baku in the early 1990s.

Last year's war saw Baku take control of parts of Karabakh and surrounding districts which Armenian forces controlled since 1994.

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