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Azerbaijan says three killed in fresh Nagorno-Karabakh clashes

Vahram Baghdasaryan / Photolure / AFP | Armenian servicemen of the self-defence army of Nagorno-Karabakh fire an artillery shell towards Azeri forces from their positions in the town of Martakert on April 3, 2016.

Three Azeri servicemen were killed in fresh fighting with Armenian-backed separatists over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region on Monday, Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry said.

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Dozens were killed on both sides at the weekend in the biggest flare-up of violence over the region in years, creating a risk that the conflict, frozen for two decades, could again erupt into full-out war.

Accounts from both sides indicated the fighting was not at the same level of ferocity as at its peak on Saturday, but there was still large-calibre fire being exchanged.

The separatist military said it had destroyed an Azeri army unit, while Azerbaijan said it had struck a separatist command point, causing several casualties. Reuters could not independently verify those assertions.

Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said that it had halted its attacks but that separatist forces were still “aggravating the situation”, attacking Azeri positions and shelling nearby settlements, forcing Azeri forces to defend themselves.

The separatists, who are ethnically Armenian, and their backers in the Armenia government, said Azerbaijan was the aggressor.

An Azeri army unit was “encircled and fully destroyed on the southern flank of the front”, Armenian Defence Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannesyan wrote on his Facebook page.

France calls for ceasefire

France, a co-president of the Minsk Group of negotiators in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, said on Monday the group would meet on Tuesday in Vienna to discuss the outbreak of violence in the territory.

In a statement, the French foreign ministry said its incumbent, Jean-Marc Ayrault, had spoken to his Armenian counterpart and called for an immediate ceasefire.

Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies inside Azerbaijan but is controlled by ethnic Armenians, has run its own affairs with heavy military and financial backing from Armenia since a separatist war ended in 1994.

The heavily-militarised contact line that separated Azeri and separatist forces had for years remained largely static, though there were intermittent exchanges of gunfire and occasional casualties.

However, at the weekend there was a dramatic escalation, with tanks, missile systems, artillery, and helicopters being used. Azerbaijan said it had seized two separatist-held villages from which it said it had been taking fire, though the separatists disputed that account.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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