Renewed shelling claims lives in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

BAKU/YEREVAN: Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other of killing civilians by shelling cities in and around Nagorno-Karabakh on Wednesday, in an escalation of a month-long conflict over the mountain enclave that has defied three ceasefires.

Azerbaijan said 14 people were killed when Armenian shells hit the town of Barda, northeast of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian-backed officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said Azeri shells had fallen on the enclave’s two largest cities, killing one person. Both sides denied each other’s claims.

The worst fighting in the South Caucasus for nearly 30 years has raised fears of a wider war that could suck in Russia and Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan. It also poses a threat to pipelines carrying oil and gas from Azerbaijan to world markets.

Armenia’s defence ministry also confirmed on Wednesday that Azerbaijan had seized the town of Gubadli between the enclave and the Iranian border, an apparent military gain that could make a diplomatic solution more difficult.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians. About 30,000 people were killed in a 1991-94 war in the region.

Azerbaijan rejects any solution that would leave Armenians in control of the enclave, which it considers to be illegally occupied. Armenia regards the territory as part of its historic homeland and says the population there needs its protection. - Reuters p class=MsoNormal>