OSCE slams recent violence between Azerbaijan, Armenia
BAKU (Reuters) - Azerbaijan and Armenia should pull back snipers from their border areas and agree on a mechanism for investigating incidents, the OSCE said on Thursday, in the wake of skirmishes between the arch rivals that have killed nine people.
The two countries have accused each other of triggering the recent cross-border clashes which have prompted worries of a resumption of fighting in a region criss-crossed by energy pipelines to Europe.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) urged both sides to show restraint and end the violence.
"The cycle of violence must stop - this conflict will not be resolved by the use of force," said the OSCE chairperson-in-office, Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore, at a news conference in the Azeri capital Baku.
Clashes took place on both sides of the shared border between the two countries as well as around breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh, which split off from Muslim Azerbaijan with the help of Christian Armenia when the Soviet Union collapsed.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited the region last week, voiced concern the violence could lead to a "much broader conflict". ID:nL5E8H4CSZ]
War between ethnic Azeris and Armenians erupted in 1991 over the mainly Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh region. A ceasefire was signed in 1994, but sporadic violence still flares along Azerbaijan's border with Armenia and a frontline with Nagorno-Karabakh.
Nagorno-Karabakh has run its own affairs with the heavy military and financial backing of Armenia since the war, when Armenian-backed forces seized control of the enclave and seven surrounding Azeri districts forming a land corridor with Armenia.
Russia, France and the United States have led years of mediation efforts under the auspices of the OSCE.
Baku and Yerevan failed to agree at talks in June last year and the angry rhetoric between them has worsened since then. Foreign ministers of the two countries plan to meet again on June 18 in Paris.
Oil-producing Azerbaijan, host to oil majors including BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil, frequently threatens to take the mountain enclave back by force, and is spending heavily on its armed forces.
Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov said on Thursday Azerbaijan was ready to remove snipers from the conflict zone if Armenia would start withdrawing its forces from the Azeri territories.
"If Armenia does not want its soldiers to die, it should withdraw its forces from Azeri territories," Mamedyarov told a news conference. "If it happens, there will be no need for snipers."
(Reporting by Lada Evgrashina; additional reporting and writing by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; Editing by Sophie Hares)