President Serzh Sarkisian and Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian paid apparently urgent visits to Nagorno-Karabakh on Thursday almost one week after deadly fighting on the Armenian-Azerbaijani Line of Contact around the disputed territory.
In a move that could fuel more talk of renewed war, Azerbaijan said, meanwhile, that it has conducted one of its biggest-ever military exercises monitored by President Ilham Aliyev.
Official sources in Yerevan said Sarkisian and Ohanian held separate meetings with Karabakh’s political and military leaders in Stepanakert. They gave no details of the talks.
A short statement by the Armenian presidential press office said Sarkisian also inaugurated a new military base in Karabakh and visited soldiers who were wounded in the June 18-19 clash with Azerbaijani forces and are now recuperating in a local military hospital.
Four Armenian and one Azerbaijani soldiers were killed in what the Armenian side says was an overnight Azerbaijani attack on Karabakh Armenian positions in the disputed region’s northeast. The fighting occurred the day after Sarkisian and Aliyev met in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg for fresh peace talks.
Sarkisian condemned the incident as an Azerbaijani “provocation” and linked it with the talks hosted by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He also called for an international condemnation of Baku.
The Azerbaijani military only implicitly denied attacking the Karabakh outpost. Officials in Baku also confirmed that the Azerbaijani serviceman was shot dead in Armenian-controlled territory.
Officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitored on Thursday the volatile situation near the site of the worst Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire violation in two years from both sides of the frontline. Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, the OSCE’s longtime top field representative in the conflict zone, reportedly led the monitoring from Azerbaijani army positions.
The Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) said Karabakh Armenian officers at the scene briefed OSCE monitors on “details of the insidious attack by an Azerbaijani sabotage unit.”
In a separate statement, the NKR Defense Army reported continuing skirmishes with Azerbaijani along various sections of the heavily fortified Line of Contact. There was no word on casualties.
In what looked like a related development, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said it has completed large-scale military exercises involving thousands of troops, 100 tanks, 125 artillery pieces and about two dozen warplanes. A ministry statement cited by Azerbaijani news agencies said they simulated a response to a “military aggression against Azerbaijan” resulting in the restoration of the country’s territorial integrity.
The statement added that Aliyev watched the “main phase” of the hitherto unpublicized exercises which it said started on Monday. It did not specify where they took place.