Karabakh Confirms Fresh Fighting Blames Azeris

STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL–Reuters)–Authorities in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Thursday confirmed reports that fighting with Azeri forces resumed Wednesday along the border but blamed Baku for the outbreak–the second this week–Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Agence France Presse quoted the Azeri defense ministry as saying that Karabakh Armenian forces fired with grenade launchers and automatic weapons on Azeri positions north-east of Karabakh. Baku said both sides suffered human losses but gave no figures.

The government of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic "categorically" rejected Azeri accusations. It said in a statement that Armenian troops came under a two-hour gunfire from Azeri positions on Wednesday but did not hit back.

A government spokesman in Stepanakert told RFE/RL that an Azeri village which Baku claims was shot at is beyond the reach of light weapons.

At least two people were killed on Monday during a skirmish in the same section of the front-line. The fighting was reportedly the worst in the last two years.

The Karabakh authorities asked the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to urgently send a monitoring mission to the area following Monday’s incident. The Karabakh statement accused Azerbaijan of trying to "disrupt" the OSCE monitoring.

Below is the text of the Karabakh foreign ministry statement–the translation of which was provided by the Armenian News Network.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Foreign Ministry categorically denies the report of the Azeri Defense Ministry about the alleged attack of Karabakh defense forces on Azeri positions in the Mardakert section of the line of contact on June 16.

As was reported by the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Defense Ministry–in reality on June 16 from 3:30 to 5:50 PM–Azeri units were actively shelling the defense positions of Karabakh forces with the use of small arms and grenade launchers. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic defense forces exhibited restraint and did not open return fire. No casualties were reported.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Foreign Ministry considers this allegation of the Azeri side as an action directed at thwarting the crisis-monitoring mission of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman- in-Office. In so doing–Azerbaijan apparently wishes to prevent the mediators from learning about who was in fact guilty for the June 14 armed clash–and thus avoid responsibility for the escalation of tension in the conflict zone.

On June 16–the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Foreign Minister sent a letter to the OSCE Chairman-in-Office requesting to conduct an immediate crisis-monitoring mission. According to available information–the Office of Personal Representative of the Chairman-in-Office will soon be making a decision on the time of the monitoring mission–which should take place within a week.

Meanwhile–at the United Nations–Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern on Thursday about a recent serious flare-up between Azeri and Armenian forces and called on all concerned to exercise restraint and abide by a 1994 cease-fire–reported the Reuters news agency.

"The secretary-general has learned with concern of a large-scale confrontation on June 14–1999 along the cease-fire line separating Azeri and Armenian ethnic forces," a statement issued through a UN spokesman’said.

"The secretary-general calls upon all concerned to exercise restraint and to adhere strictly to the provisions of the cease-fire agreement of 1994–thus facilitating a political settlement of this protracted conflict," the statement added.

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