March 11, 2016 / 11:53 AM / 2 years ago

Heavy shelling rocks fragile ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh

BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) - Azerbaijan and its rebel Nagorno-Karabakh region accused each other on Friday of violating a ceasefire with intense shelling, a sign that the two-decade-old conflict which has left some 30,000 people dead is far from a peaceful resolution.

Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies inside Azerbaijan but is controlled by ethnic Armenians, has run its own affairs with heavy military and financial backing from Armenia since a separatist war ended in 1994.

Its Armenian-backed forces control Nagorno-Karabakh and seven Azeri districts adjoining it. The situation on the tense “contact line” between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh has seriously deteriorated in the past few days.

Azerbaijan’s army fired at Armenian-held positions on Thursday night “to prevent a subversive act” by Armenia’s armed forces targeting the Azeri town of Agdam, the Azeri Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Between 10 and 15 Armenian soldiers were killed and military equipment was destroyed, the Azeri ministry said.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Ministry denied targeting civilians in the Agdam area and said its servicemen had been forced to return fire after a “reconnaissance and subversive” Azeri group tried to penetrate an area under its control.

It said it had sustained no losses despite heavy enemy fire, which included mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and howitzers. It said two Azeri soldiers had been killed and several wounded.

The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh broke out in the dying years of the Soviet Union. Efforts to reach a permanent settlement have failed despite mediation led by France, Russia and the United States.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarksyan have had several meetings before, but with no tangible results.

Reporting by Nailia Bagirova and Hasmik Mkrtchyan; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Dominic Evans

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