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May 28, 2017

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Azerbaijan, Armenia clash; five killed in Nagorny Karabakh fighting

BAKU -- Azerbaijan said Saturday it had lost four troops in new clashes with arch-foe Armenia near the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region as mediators sounded the alarm over a spike in tensions in the protracted conflict.

The fresh clashes come after Azerbaijan said Friday that eight troops had been killed in three days of fighting with Armenia, with Moscow and Washington expressing concern over the violence.

The two ex-Soviet Caucasus nations have been locked in a long-simmering conflict over Nagorny Karabakh, a majority Armenian region within Azerbaijan that is de facto independent, with occasional skirmishes along the front.

The sudden surge in tensions in a region that has been on a knife-edge for years comes as Armenia's ally Russia is locked in a confrontation with the West over the future of ex-Soviet Ukraine.

A leading Azeri military expert said earlier this week that Baku has not suffered such losses in a single bout of hostilities since 1994, when a ceasefire was agreed.

The defense ministry in Baku said Saturday: "Armenia's reconnaissance and sabotage groups once again tried to attack Azeri positions at the line of contact" near Nagorny Karabakh.

Azeri troops repelled the overnight attack, forcing Armenian soldiers to retreat, the defense ministry said.

"As a result of the clash, four Azeri troops died," the ministry said in a statement.

Authorities in Nagorny Karabakh for their part said a 25-year-old ethnic Armenian soldier had been killed, and accused Azerbaijan of trying to carry out "sabotage and reconnaissance activities."

They said three Azeri troops had been killed and seven were wounded.

Armenia said weapons including grenades and mortars had been used against Nagorny Karabakh troops.

"Such actions of Azeri troops utterly and completely contradict the spirit and logic of negotiations being conducted under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group and are fraught with a real threat of large-scale military hostilities."

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