YEREVAN (Reuters) - Four Armenian soldiers were killed in an attack by Azeri forces on Friday near the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, in a new outburst of violence in the region, Nagorno-Karabkh’s defense ministry said.
Clashes along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan and around Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies inside Azerbaijan but is controlled by majority ethnic Armenians, have stoked fears of a wider conflict breaking out in the South Caucasus, which is crossed by oil and gas pipelines.
Sporadic clashes between the two have thwarted international efforts to end the dispute, which broke out in the dying years of the Soviet Union and has killed about 30,000 people.
The separatist region’s defense ministry said in a statement that four Armenian soldiers had died and several were wounded as a result of artillery shelling and gunfire from the Azeri forces.
Azeri officials were not immediately available to comment.
Armenia said earlier on Friday that three civilians were killed and two were wounded late on Thursday in an attack by Azeri forces in several villages near the border between the two former Soviet republics.
Nagorno-Karabakh has run its own affairs with heavy military and financial backing from Armenia since the war. Armenian-backed forces also hold seven Azeri districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.
Efforts to reach a permanent settlement have failed despite mediation led by France, Russia and the United States.
Oil-producing Azerbaijan, host to global oil companies including BP Plc, Chevron Corp and ExxonMobil Corp, frequently threatens to take the mountain region 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.
Reporting by Hasmik Mkrtchyan; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Jonathan Oatis