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U.S. says Kosovo no precedent for Nagorno-Karabakh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States expressed concern on Wednesday about a clash that killed up to 16 people in Nagorno-Karabakh and said Kosovo’s breakaway from Serbia was not a precedent for the disputed Caucasus mountain enclave.

Earlier, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said Kosovo’s February 17 declaration of independence had emboldened Armenian separatists in the Nagorno-Karabakh. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of stoking the violence there this week.

“We’re concerned by the outbreak of fighting. We want to see that incident not be repeated,” U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.

“Kosovo is not a precedent and should not be seen as a precedent for any other place out there in the world. It certainly isn’t a precedent for Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said.

Nagorno-Karabakh was seized by pro-Armenian forces from Azerbaijan in a war in the 1990s in which an estimated 35,000 people died. A cease-fire was agreed in 1994 but the search for a lasting peace has stalled.

Azerbaijan and Armenia gave differing accounts of the death toll from Tuesday’s clash.

Muslim Azerbaijan said 12 Armenian fighters and four Azeri soldiers were killed. Christian Armenia said eight Azeri soldiers died and two Armenian soldiers were injured.

Casey said Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia with strong support from the United States, was a unique situation because it had been managed by a U.N. resolution that anticipated a decision on its final status.

A U.S. official telephoned Armenia’s foreign minister to ask that the violence in Nagorno-Karabakh not be repeated and is on his way to Armenia in a previously arranged trip to try to ease the political standoff after recent elections there, Casey said.

The U.S. official, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza, has already stopped in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku and expressed to officials there the U.S. concerns that the Nagorno-Karabakh clashes not recur, Casey said.

He said Bryza would tell the Armenian government it should lift a state of emergency imposed over the weekend after rioting broke out during mass protests against the presidential election. The opposition says the election was rigged.

“One of his clear messages will be to tell the Armenian government that now that the situation has calmed down, it’s very important to us to see the state of emergency lifted there,” Casey said.

“We also are concerned about the limitations and restrictions that have been placed on the media, including Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe there. We’d like to see those lifted,” he added.

Editing by Xavier Briand