The Armenian and Azerbaijani militaries on Monday accused each other of using mortars to intensify ceasefire violations around Nagorno-Karabakh overnight.
The two warring sides reported intense gunfire along the Karabakh “line of contact” the day after the death of an Azerbaijani soldier serving there.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said the 26-year-old contract soldier, Fikret Bashirov, was shot dead by enemy fire. Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian-backed Defense Army denied responsibility for Bashirov’s death, however, claiming that he was killed by other Azerbaijani servicemen.
The Defense Army also reported on Monday that one of its soldiers, Arayik Sargsian, was found shot dead early in the afternoon at one of its frontline positions “in still unclear circumstances.” Military authorities in Stepanakert are investigating the incident, it said.
It was also announced that another Armenian soldier, Garik Vartanian, died in a military hospital late on Sunday from gunshot wounds sustained in Karabakh on December 30. Vartanian, 20, was reportedly shot by an Azerbaijani sniper.
In another statement issued earlier in the day, the Karabakh Armenian army said Azerbaijani troops “intensively” violated the ceasefire regime on the night from Sunday to Monday. It said they fired over 50 mortar shells at its troops stationed east of Karabakh.
An army statement added that Karabakh Armenian forces returned fire “at some sections” of the frontline. “If the enemy continues such behavior, the Defense Army will take tougher actions,” it warned.
The Defense Ministry in Baku, claimed the opposite, saying that its frontline troops came under intense Armenian mortar fire. “The armed forces of Azerbaijan took adequate retaliatory measures to prevent enemy activity,” it said.
Both sides said that they suffered no casualties in the overnight exchange of gunfire.
The latest escalation came one week after the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group again urged the conflicting parties to avoid truce violations. They said the parties should also “strictly observe” confidence-building agreements that were reached by Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s presidents at their last two meetings held in May and June.
The agreements call for concrete measures designed to prevent armed incidents in on “the line of contact” and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Those include international investigations of truce violations and deployment of more OSCE observers in the conflict zone.
Davit Babayan, a senior Karabakh official, on Monday reaffirmed the Armenian side’s unconditional support for the truce safeguards sought by the U.S., Russian and French mediators. “The sooner the confidence-building measures are taken, the fewer casualties and the more stability in the region there will be,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Armenia’s leaders have repeatedly accused Baku of dragging its feet over the agreed measures.