Six Armenian soldiers were captured by Azerbaijan on Thursday, the latest in a series of border incidents that escalated after last year’s war in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The capture of Armenian soldiers comes at a delicate time for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan ahead of the snap elections next month.
Pashinyan called the situation “tense and explosive” and called for international observers to be placed on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said its forces were carrying out engineering work in a border region when the Azerbaijani army “surrounded and captured six soldiers.”
However, the Azerbaijani army described the Armenian soldiers as a “reconnaissance and sabotage group”.
He said the Armenian soldiers “tried to exploit the supply routes leading to the positions of the Azerbaijani army” and “were surrounded, neutralized and taken prisoner”.
“The situation is tense and explosive,” Pashinyan said during his visit to the eastern region of Gegharkunik, where the soldiers had been captured.
Speaking separately at a meeting of his security council, the prime minister suggested that international observers be placed on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The border incident between the historic rivals was only the latest in several months and puts additional pressure on a ceasefire brokered by Russia last year.
Last year, the two former Soviet countries in the Caucasus region fought for six weeks for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-born region in Azerbaijan that had been controlled by separatists for decades.
Some 6,000 people have been killed in the conflict that ended after Moscow negotiated an agreement between Yerevan and Baku that saw Armenia hand over to Azerbaijan large portions of territory it had controlled for decades.
The ceasefire, monitored by some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers, has largely held up but tensions have persisted.
Among the reconquered territories was the district of Kelbajar, located across the border with Gegharkunik.
A senior representative of the Armenian army said there were around 1,000 Azerbaijani soldiers on Armenian soil near Gegharkunik.
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He said that for now the incidents are resolved peacefully, but “if a decision is made to use force then they will be destroyed.”
# photo1Azerbaijan said Armenia has deployed tanks in the region.
Armenia said one of its soldiers was killed earlier this week after gunfire broke out with Azerbaijani forces, an incident for which Baku has denied being responsible.
Earlier this month, Armenia accused the Azerbaijani army of crossing its southern border to “besiege” a lake shared by the two countries.
The latest escalation comes ahead of parliamentary snap polls in Armenia on June 20.
Pashinyan announced the elections under pressure from opposition protesters, who for months held rallies to demand the resignation of the prime minister.
They hold him responsible for what many in Armenia see as a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Azerbaijani army, and for agreeing to cede swathes of territory to Azerbaijan.
Pashinyan, 45, says he had no choice but to concede or see his country’s forces suffer even greater casualties.
# photo2He maintains that new elections are the best way out of the post-war political deadlock.
Earlier this month, Pashinyan said Armenia and Azerbaijan were in talks mediated by Russia on the demarcation and demarcation of their common borders.
He also said the two governments could discuss possible territorial exchanges between the two countries.
Russia’s role as an intermediary between Armenia and Azerbaijan has largely come at the expense of Western powers, including France and the United States.
All three are part of a mediation group that has tried but failed for decades to find a lasting solution to the conflict.
The Armenian ethnic separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh split from Azerbaijan around the collapse of the Soviet Union in a conflict that claimed the lives of some 30,000 people and displaced many more.
mkh-eg-jbr-acl / as / spm
© 2021 AFP