Yerevan, Feb 13 (AP) Armenia and Azerbaijan on Tuesday traded accusations over a border skirmish that left at least four Armenian soldiers dead and escalated tensions between the two Caucasus neighbours.

Armenia's Foreign Ministry denounced what it described as a “provocation” by Azerbaijani troops who fired on Armenian forces across the border in the eastern Syunik region early Tuesday. Four Armenian soldiers were killed and one was wounded, the ministry said. It urged Azerbaijan to refrain from “destabilising” actions.

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Azerbaijan's State Border Service said it had fired on an Armenian post in retaliation for Armenian shelling of Azerbaijani positions that wounded one Azerbaijani service member the previous day.

“Any provocations by the Armenian side aimed at escalating tensions along the Azerbaijan-Armenia border will now be met with even more serious and decisive measures," the State Border Service said in a statement.

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“The military-political leadership of Armenia bears full responsibility for these developments.”

Armenia and Azerbaijan have a long history of land disputes. Azerbaijan waged a lightning military campaign last year to reclaim the Karabakh region, which Armenian separatists had ruled for three decades.

The region, which was known internationally as Nagorno-Karabakh, and large swaths of surrounding territory came under full control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia at the end of a separatist war in 1994.

Azerbaijan regained parts of Karabakh and most of the surrounding territory in a six-week war in 2020. It then launched a blitz in September that routed the separatist forces in one day and forced them to lay down arms. More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled the region in the following days, leaving it nearly deserted.

With political momentum from the successful military operation, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev last week won another term with 92 per cent of the vote in a snap election.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have pledged to work toward signing a peace treaty, but no visible progress has been made, and tensions have continued to soar amid mutual distrust.

Armenia's Foreign Ministry cited the latest skirmish to accuse Azerbaijan of “searching for pretexts for escalation” and trying to derail peace efforts.(AP)

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