MOSCOW (Reuters) - Azerbaijan accused arch rival Armenia on Tuesday of killing five soldiers near the two countries’ shared border in the second day of violence that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned could spiral into a broader regional conflict.
The violence comes the day after a skirmish on the Azeri-Armenian border which killed three Armenian soldiers and wounded others on both sides. Clinton, on a trip to the South Caucasus, voiced concern that violence could lead to a “broader conflict”.
Tuesday’s skirmish occurred around 06:30 a.m. (0130 GMT). Another clash killed one more Azeri soldier.
“A group of saboteurs from Armenia undertook an attempt to infiltrate a position of the Azeri armed forces ... In the course of battle four Azeri soldiers died,” the Defence Ministry of the Muslim oil producing country’s said in a statement.
Clinton, who visited Armenia on Monday, is due to make a half-day trip to Azerbaijan on Wednesday.
War between ethnic Azeris and Armenians erupted in 1991 over the mostly Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh region, which broke away from Muslim Azerbaijan with the backing of Christian Armenia as the Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago.
The latest incidents, however, took place more than 400 kms (250 miles) away from Nagorno-Karabakh, where sporadic violence still flares along a ceasefire line negotiated in 1994.
Some 30,000 people were killed and about 1 million became refugees, the majority in Azerbaijan.
Recent years have seen skirmishes around the Nagorno-Karabakh frontline and the two countries’ shared border, raising fears of a return to full-blown conflict in the South Caucasus, a vital route for oil and natural gas from the Caspian region to Europe.
Efforts at reaching a permanent settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have failed, despite mediation led by France, Russia and the United States.
Reporting By Lada Yevgrashina; Writing by Thomas Grove; Editing by Jon Hemming