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Azerbaijani soldier killed by Armenian forces

BAKU – The Associated Press

An Azerbaijani soldier was killed on the cease-fire line separating government troops from ethnic Armenian forces controlling the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and a swath of surrounding territory in the ex-Soviet republic, the Defense Ministry said on Thursday.

The military chief in the disputed enclave, meanwhile, said strengthened defenses on the cease-fire line mean that any Azerbaijani attempt to take back the territory will be thwarted and could prompt “successful counterattacks.”

The latest death on the dividing line and the bellicose warning added to tension that persists more than a decade after a 1994 cease-fire ended a six-year war over Nagorno-Karabakh that killed 30,000 people and drove a million from their homes.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said ethnic Armenian forces opened fire near the village of Shurabad shortly before midnight Wednesday, killing an Azerbaijani soldier.

Gunfire sporadically breaks out between the opposing forces, and the dispute has raised fears of renewed war. International efforts have failed to produce a settlement between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which supports Nagorno-Karabakh’s internationally unrecognized government.

Also Wednesday, Nagorno-Karabakh defense chief Seiran Oganian said that “large volume of construction work” done on the front line over the past year would enable ethnic Armenian forces to “freely conduct trench fighting in the case military action begins, turning aside all attempts by the enemy to move forward.”

“We are prepared … not just to defend ourselves but to conduct successful counterstrikes,” Oganian said.

Ethnic Armenian forces also control a large amount of adjacent territory, including land that links the enclave with Armenia. Disputes over the additional territory have been one of the factors preventing Armenia and Azerbaijan from settling the conflict.

International monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has been seeking to foster a settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan for a decade, are due to tour the ethnic Armenian-held territory in the coming days.

Oganian, who spoke at a news conference, said that Nagorno-Karabakh authorities “cannot prohibit our citizens to farm in these territories.”

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