* Clashes highlight risk of wider conflict in Caucasus
* OSCE warns against further escalation of conflict
By Hasmik Mkrtchyan and Nailia Bagirova
YEREVAN/BAKU, Aug 3 Armenia and Azerbaijan
accused each other on Sunday of escalating tensions near the
disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, leading to violent
clashes and at least 15 soldiers killed.
The clashes in recent days highlighted the risk of broader
conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave of
Azerbaijan with a majority ethnic Armenian population, and the
wider South Caucasus area where vital oil and natural gas flow
from the Caspian region to Europe.
The Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE) issued a statement on Saturday warning against further
An Azeri foreign ministry statement accused Armenia of
provoking "a substantial escalation along the frontline" and
causing casualties. "The whole responsibility is on official
Yerevan, which gives orders to such a provocative steps," it
For its part, Armenia accused Azerbaijan of raising tensions
and then blaming it. Both are former Soviet republics.
"Rejecting the proposals of the international community on
the establishment of a mechanism of investigation of incidents,
Azerbaijan is assuming the whole responsibility for the
ceasefire violations," Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said
in a statement.
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.
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.
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.
The OSCE has expressed concern about the intense upsurge in
violence along the frontline that has resulted in casualties
among Azeri soldiers and ethnic Armenian separatists.
OSCE officials have also said they were deeply concerned
about shooting at a clearly marked International Committee of
the Red Cross (ICRC) vehicle while it was assisting the local
population on the Armenian-Azeri border.
They strongly condemned the deliberate targeting of
civilians and shooting at representatives of international
"Retaliation and further violence will only make it more
difficult to continue efforts to bring about a lasting peace,"
the OSCE head and the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group said in
a statement on Saturday.
(Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Tom Heneghan)