December 29, 2016 / 3:38 PM / 3 years ago

Armenia, Azerbaijan accuse each other of starting fight that killed 3

YEREVAN/BAKU, Dec 29 (Reuters) - Three Armenian servicemen were killed in border clashes with Azeri soldiers, Armenia’s defence ministry spokesman said on Thursday, with each sides accusing the other of encroaching on their territory.

Artsrun Hovannisyan said in a statement that Azeri soldiers had tried to cross into Armenia, while Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said Armenian forces tried to cross the border.

Clashes between the two ex-Soviet nations and about the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region have stoked fears of a wider conflict breaking out in the South Caucasus, which that carries oil and gas pipelines from Russia into Europe.

Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said one Azeri soldier was missing after the clashes at the border.

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 violence around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Azeri-Armenian border.

The ceasefire was shattered in April when Azerbaijan’s army and Armenian-backed separatists exchanged heavy fire using artillery, tanks, rockets and helicopters.

Efforts to reach a permanent settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have failed despite mediation led by France, Russia and the United States. (Reporting by Hasmik Mkrtchyan in Yerevan and Nailia Bagirova in Baku; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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