The Karabakh Armenian and Azerbaijani militaries accused each other on Thursday of launching overnight commando raids on their “line of contact” around Nagorno-Karabakh which left at least three Azerbaijani soldiers wounded.
The Defense Ministry in Baku said an Armenian “reconnaissance-sabotage squad” attacked an Azerbaijani army outpost southeast of Karabakh but was repelled by soldiers manning it. Three of them, including a warrant officer, were wounded in the firefight and hospitalized as a result, it said, according to Azerbaijani news agencies.
Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army offered a totally different version of events, saying that an Azerbaijani commando unit launched an incursion on its frontline positions in the area early in the morning but retreated after suffering “significant losses.” “The [Karabakh] Defense Army suffered no losses,” it said in a statement.
The statement also said that the incident took place at the section of the heavily fortified frontline where an Armenian soldier, Artur Ohanjanian, was shot dead by an Azerbaijani sniper on Tuesday. Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president, posthumously awarded Ohanian a medal on Wednesday.
The incidents come a week after the Karabakh army commander, General Movses Hakobian, stated that he has ordered his forces to respond to grave ceasefire violations with not only sniper fire but also offensive retaliatory operations. “We have sent a message to the effect that if they shoot at our soldiers from a particular position we will seize it,” he told a news conference in Stepanakert.
Hakobian claimed that a special army unit did just that after another Karabakh Armenian soldier was killed by Azerbaijani sniper fire recently. He said they killed four Azerbaijani soldiers in the “punitive” raid.” The general did not specify the date and other details of the alleged operation.
The Azerbaijani military reported in early April that three of its soldiers were killed and six others wounded in a landmine explosion southeast of Karabakh. The Karabakh Armenians insisted that those casualties resulted from “yet another reconnaissance and sabotage raid” on their frontline positions.
Hakobian said on May 13 that the Azerbaijani army has attempted five such incursions so far this year. “Only one of them was partly successful,” he said in televised comments. “Only in one case were they able to approach our positions and shoot one of our soldiers.”
Hakobian apparently referred to last January’s fatal shooting of an Armenian soldier in what the military authorities in Stepanakert and Yerevan called an Azerbaijani commando assault in northeastern Karabakh. That incident led to an upsurge in ceasefire violations along “the line of contact” and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
The escalation appeared to have thwarted a fresh meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents which was planned by the U.S., Russian and French mediators for the beginning of this year. The mediators hoped that the two leaders will build on progress reportedly made by them at their last meeting held in Vienna in November.
The three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group crossed the Karabakh frontline on foot on Monday during their latest tour of the conflict zone. In an ensuing joint statement, they “expressed regret for the continued ceasefire violations and consequent casualties.” “The absence of a mechanism for investigating these ceasefire violations allows the sides to put the blame on each other,” said the statement.