Baku: Azerbaijan said on Saturday that it had lost four troops in new clashes with arch-foe Armenia near the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region as mediators sounded the alarm over a spike in tensions in the protracted conflict.
The fresh confrontations which also led to the death of an ethnic Armenian soldier come after Azerbaijan said yesterday that eight troops had been killed in three days of fighting, with Moscow and Washington both expressing concern over the violence.
The two ex-Soviet Caucasus nations have been locked in a long-simmering conflict over Nagorny Karabakh, a majority Armenian region within Azerbaijan that is de facto independent, with occasional skirmishes along the front.
The sudden surge in tensions in a region that has been on a knife-edge for years comes as Armenia`s ally Russia is locked in a confrontation with the West over the future of ex-Soviet Ukraine.
A leading Azeri military expert said earlier this week that Baku has not suffered such losses in a single bout of hostilities since 1994, when a ceasefire was agreed.
The Defence Ministry in Baku said today, "Armenia`s reconnaissance and sabotage groups once again tried to attack Azeri positions at the line of contact near Nagorny Karabakh".
Azeri troops repelled the overnight attack, forcing Armenian soldiers to retreat, the Defence Ministry said.
"As a result of the clash, four Azeri troops died," the ministry added in a statement.
Authorities in Nagorny Karabakh for their part said a 25-year-old ethnic Armenian soldier had been killed, and accused Azerbaijan of trying to carry out "sabotage and reconnaissance activities".
They claimed three Azeri troops had been killed and seven were wounded.
Armenia said weapons including grenades and mortars had been used against Nagorny Karabakh troops and that the Azeri troops` actions contradicted the negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group and threaten large-scale military hostilities.
Later today, Armenia announced that President Serzh Sarkisian would meet with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi next week to discuss the crisis.
"The meeting between the two presidents will take place on August 8 or 9, in Sochi," Armenian Prime Minister Ovik Abraamian was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.