Three Azerbaijani soldiers were killed and six others wounded near Nagorno-Karabakh in disputed circumstances late on Monday.
Azerbaijani news agencies cited the Defense Ministry in Baku as saying Tuesday that the soldiers led by a captain hit a landmine at a section of Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” southeast of Karabakh. They said the officer, Jeykhun Orujaliyev, and two conscripts died on the spot. One of them, Seyfaddin Kerimov, was a former wrestling champion of Azerbaijan, reported SalamNews.az.
Two of the wounded soldiers were said to be in a critical condition and were flown to a military hospital in Baku by a helicopter.
Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov reportedly visited the frontline section on Tuesday to personally investigate the incident. According to the Trend news agency, Hasanov’s press office said that the “accident” occurred while the soldiers reinforced their trenches.
Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army insisted, however, that the latest Azerbaijani casualties resulted from “yet another reconnaissance and sabotage raid” on its frontline positions. It said that its troops repelled the Azerbaijani commandos and that the latter “blew up on a minefield during their retreat.”
“The Karabakh side suffered no casualties while fighting back the Azerbaijani attackers,” the Karabakh Defense Army said in a statement. “Following the incident, frontline units of the Defense Army continue to … control the situation along the entire Line of Contact.”
The incident occurred less than three months after an upsurge in deadly ceasefire violations on “the line of contact” around Karabakh and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. It was sparked by the killing of an Armenian soldier in northeastern Karabakh, which the military authorities in Stepanakert and Yerevan said was the result of a failed Azerbaijani commando raid. The Azerbaijani military denied attacking Karabakh Armenian positions in the area. It acknowledged suffering two casualties, both of them officers, there in the following days.
Although the situation on the frontline appeared to have stabilized in February and March, ceasefire violations remain a regular occurrence. Several soldiers from both warring sides died near Karabakh last month.
The latest combat deaths come amid continuing efforts by international mediators to arrange another meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents, which they hope will break the deadlock in the Karabakh peace proposals. The meeting might take place on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Prague later this month.