Emirates 24/7
June 5 2012

Three Armenian soldiers die in border incident

By Reuters
Published Tuesday, June 05, 2012

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced concern on Monday
that violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan could lead to a broader
regional conflict as three Armenian soldiers died in a border incident.

Clinton began a trip to the South Caucasus region by calling on
all sides to renounce violence as the former Soviet republics traded
accusations over a clash that killed the Armenian soldiers and wounded
troops on both sides of their border.

"I am very concerned by these incidents and have called on all
parties, all actors, to refrain from the use or threat of force,"
Clinton told reporters at a news conference with Armenian Foreign
Minister Edward Nalbandian.

"There is a danger that it could escalate into a much broader conflict
that would be very tragic for everyone concerned," she added.

War between ethnic Azeris and Armenians erupted in 1991 over the
mostly Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh region, which broke away from Muslim
Azerbaijan with the backing of Christian Armenia as the Soviet Union
collapsed two decades ago.

Sporadic violence still flares along a ceasefire line negotiated
in 1994. Some 30,000 people were killed and about 1 million became
refugees, the majority in Azerbaijan.

The last three years have seen skirmishes mainly on the frontline
around Nagorno-Karabakh, raising fears of a return to full-blown
conflict in the South Caucasus, an important route for oil and gas
from the Caspian region to Europe.

The latest incident, however, took place more than 400 kms away from


Clinton's South Caucasus trip will focus largely on security and
democratic reform in the region criss-crossed by energy pipelines,
fraught with territorial disputes and the site of a five-day war
between Russia and pro-western Georgia in 2008.

Clinton met Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan and Nalbandian during a
roughly five-hour visit to Yerevan. Speaking in the Aremenian capital,
Clinton urged Armenia and Turkey, whose border has been closed since
1993, to normalize relations.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in a gesture of solidarity with
ethnic kin in Azerbaijan during the Nagorno-Karabkah conflict.

While Armenia and Turkey signed an agreement in October 2009 to
normalise relations, open the border and develop trade, tourism and
economic cooperation, they never ratified the pact.

The lack of a permanent settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,
despite mediation led by France, Russia and the United States,
scuttled Ankara's and Yerevan's efforts to normalise relations.

Clinton also urged Armenia, whose closed borders with Azerbaijan and
Turkey make it dependent on Iran and on its former Soviet master
Moscow, to pursue reforms to improve its economy as well as to
strengthen democratic institutions.

"Private sector investors are looking for an open business climate with
predictable rules and independent judiciary, transparent regulations,
taxes and customs," she said. While Clinton said that the United
States was at progress Armenia had made, she urged it to undertake
more economic reform this year.

>>From Yerevan, Clinton flew to Georgia's Black Sea resort of Batumi
where she will spend two nights before traveling to Azerbaijan,
where her visit has been carefully calibrated to spend roughly the
same amount of time as she did in Armenia.