Three Armenian soldiers were killed and several others wounded early on Monday in fresh fighting reported from the most volatile section of Armenia’s heavily militarized border with Azerbaijan.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed serious concern about the incident when she visited Yerevan later in the day.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said the soldiers -- Hrach Sargsian, Zohrab Balabekian and Karen Davtian -- died while fighting back a cross-border incursion by Azerbaijani forces into the northern Tavush region.
“The sabotage advance was halted and the enemy was repelled, suffering casualties,” read a ministry statement. “The Armenian Armed Forces control the situation along the line of contact, carrying out actions commensurate with the situation,” it said without elaborating.
The statement added that Armenia’s chief military prosecutor, Gevorg Kostanian, and a team of Defense Ministry investigators rushed to the scene of the deadly fighting.
The Azerbaijani military was quick to deny shooting and killing Armenian troops at what is the westernmost section of the roughly 1,000 kilometer-long Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier. The Trend news agency quoted a spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Baku as alleging that the soldiers were gunned down by their Armenian comrades.
The situation along that border section has been extremely tense in recent months, with both warring sides reporting ceasefire violations there on a regular basis. Three other Armenian soldiers were killed in the area in a single incident just over a month ago. The Armenian military pledged to take retaliatory actions at the time amid renewed international concerns over the possible outbreak of a full-scale war in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.
The latest deadly incident occurred three days after field representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitored the ceasefire regime in Tavush and an adjacent region in western Azerbaijan. A civilian resident of a local Armenian village, Aygepar, was reportedly wounded there late last week.
Clinton had what she described as a “serious discussion” with President Serzh Sarkisian on this and other deadly skirmishes in the conflict zone. “I am very concerned about the danger of escalation of tensions and the senseless deaths of young soldiers and innocent civilians,” she told journalists after the talks.
“The use of force will not resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and therefore force must not be used. We are calling on everyone to renounce force as well as refraining from violence,” she said.
“I assured the president that I would make these points in Baku when I am there the day after tomorrow,” added Clinton.