Azerbaijan says soldier killed near disputed Nagorno-Karabakh

BAKU/YEREVAN Mon Mar 11, 2013 10:50am EDT

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BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) - Azerbaijan accused forces backed by neighboring Armenia on Monday of killing an Azeri soldier near the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, where a war killed about 30,000 people two decades ago.

Foreign governments are wary of any skirmishes in the South Caucasus because of concerns that a new war could erupt, threatening pipelines that carry natural gas and oil to Europe.

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said in a statement that the soldier had been shot dead on Sunday by a sniper near the line of contact with Nagorno-Karabakh, which is controlled by ethnic Armenians but is inside Azerbaijan.

The ministry described this as a violation of a truce signed in 1994 but a military spokesman in Nagorno-Karabakh said the statement by Azerbaijan "does not correspond with reality" and denied violating the terms of the truce.

Armenia has a policy of not commenting on any such incidents. Azerbaijan last said on February 5 that forces backed by Yerevan had killed two of its soldiers near Nagorno-Karabakh.

Oil-producing Azerbaijan, host to global majors including BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil, frequently threatens to take the mountain enclave back by force, and is spending heavily on its armed forces.

Armenia, an ally of Russia, says it would not stand by if Nagorno-Karabakh were attacked.

There would be a risk of a new war over the mountainous enclave of 160,000 people spreading if the pipelines carrying Azeri oil and gas to Europe via Turkey, Baku's main regional ally, were hit.

(Reporting by Lada Evgrashina in Baku and Hasmik Mkrtchyan in Yerevan; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Robin Pomeroy)

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