* Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh separatists report new losses
* Clashes highlight risk of wider conflict in Caucasus
* Russia warns against further escalation of conflict
By Hasmik Mkrtchyan and Nailia Bagirova
BAKU/YEREVAN, Aug 2 Five more soldiers were
killed in skirmishes between Azeri government forces and ethnic
Armenian separatists controlling the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh
enclave of Azerbaijan, officials from both sides said on
The casualties bring the death toll to at least 15 in a
flare-up of violence over the last few days around
Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous area with a majority ethnic
The clashes have underlined the risk of broader conflict in
the South Caucasus, where vital oil and natural gas flow from
the Caspian region to Europe. Russia, an ally of Armenia, issued
a statement on Saturday warning against further escalation.
Energy-producing Azerbaijan, host to oil majors including BP
, Chevron and ExxonMobil, frequently
threatens to take Nagorno-Karabakh back by force and is spending
heavily on its armed forces.
Armenia, an ex-Soviet republic as is Azerbaijan, has warned
it will intervene if Nagorno-Karabakh is overrun.
Fighting between ethnic Azeris and Armenians first erupted
in 1991 and a ceasefire was called in 1994. But Azerbaijan and
Armenia have regularly traded accusations of further violence
around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Azeri-Armenian border.
Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry said on Saturday four of its
soldiers had been killed in overnight skirmishes along the line
that demarcates Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan.
"Armenian sabotage groups attacked positions of the Azeri
army," the Azeri ministry said in a statement.
The breakaway enclave also said one of its combatants was
killed in the fighting.
On Friday, Azerbaijan reported about eight soldiers killed
and the separatists said two of their soldiers had been killed.
Armenia blamed Azerbaijan for the latest bloodshed.
"Such behaviour by the Azeri armed forces contradicts the
logic of negotiating a resolution of the conflict and may lead
to large-scale military actions," the Armenian Defence Ministry
said in a statement.
Nagorno-Karabakh runs its own affairs with heavy military
and financial backing from Armenia since the war that killed
about 30,000 people two decades ago. Armenian-backed forces also
seized seven Azeri districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.
Efforts to reach a permanent settlement of the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have failed despite mediation led by
France, Russia and the United States.
"We see the events of recent days as a serious violation of
agreements on a ceasefire and declared intentions to achieve a
regulation (of the conflict) through political means," the
Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
"We take the position that any further escalation is
unacceptable," it said.
(Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Gareth Jones)