Five killed in shootout between Karabakh-Armenian police and Azerbaijani army

Five people have been killed in a shootout between police officers of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) and Azerbaijani soldiers on Sunday (5 March).

A state minister in the NKR government said three police officers were shot dead in an "ambush" by what he called an Azerbaijani "sabotage group". The three police officers have been named as Lt. colonel Armen Babayan, Major Davit Danielyan and Lt. Ararat Gasparyan by NKR authorities. A fourth officer, Lt. Davit Hovsepyan, reportedly suffered a gunshot wound to the chest and has been hospitalised, according to Armenian media.

Gurgen Nersisian said ethnic Armenian "police officers were driving in a vehicle from the Karabakh side to our police station. There were no weapons or ammunition in the vehicle at all." A statement released by the Armenian Foreign Ministry also argued that the incident was "pre-planned" and a "provocation".

In Baku, authorities said two Azerbaijani soldiers were killed while attempting to stop Armenian vehicles from smuggling weapons into Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijani soldiers have been named as Sahriyar Alibayli and Esqin Huseynov.

In statement released by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on 5 March an "operational unit of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Azerbaijan was sent to the area, and attempted to check the vehicles transporting weapons, ammunition, military personnel and landmines from Armenia to Khankendi". The statement accused "the opposite side" of opening fire and reported deaths and injuries.

Both sides rejected the other side's allegations, and it was not immediately possible to verify claims. Soon after the 10am incident and as late as Monday morning (6 March), photographs and videos continued to emerge online with both sides claiming they proved their version of events to be true.

Klaar calls for negotiations, Yerevan calls for fact-finding mission, Baku calls for checkpoint

In the aftermath of the incident, the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia Toivo Klaar, tweeted that the deadly incident "underscores the urgency of pushing forward with negotiations to achieve stability & a fair peace".

Having been in Armenia last week, Klaar also announced his arrival in Azerbaijan, saying, "Back in Baku. Look forward to substantive meetings with Azerbaijani leadership to advance peace process after meetings in Munich."

In their statement about the 5 March incident, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said, "Under current circumstances, sending an international fact-finding mission to the Lachin corridor and Nagorno-Karabakh becomes a vital necessity."

On their part, the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry said the 5 March incident "once again proves that Azerbaijan needs to establish an appropriate checkpoint on the Lachin-Khankandi road", repeating a point that President Aliyev made in Munich on 18 February, but has been rejected by Armenia and is "not envisaged" by Russia.

Click here to read more.

source: with agencies
photo: RFE/RL