(Reuters) – Azerbaijani troops and ethnic Armenians exchanged gunfire on Sunday in Azerbaijan’s contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, killing at least five people, according to reports from Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Nagorno-Karabakh was the focal point of two wars that have pitted Azerbaijan against Azerbaijan in the more than 30 years since both ex-Soviet states have achieved attendance.
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said two servicemen were killed in an exchange of fire after Azerbaijani troops stopped a convoy it suspected of carrying weapons from the region’s main town to outlying areas. It said the convoy had used an unauthorised road.
Armenia’s foreign ministry said three officials from the Karabakh interior ministry were killed. It said the convoy had been carrying documents and a service pistol and dismissed as “absurd” Azerbaijani allegations that weapons were being carried.
Nagorno-Karabakh has long been recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan, though its population is made up predominantly of ethnic Armenians.
Armenian forces took control of Karabakh in a war that gripped the region as Soviet rule was collapsing in the early 1990s. Azerbaijan recaptured large swathes of territory in a six-week conflict in 2020 that ended with a truce and the dispatch of Russian peacekeepers, who remain in the region.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan have met several times as part of efforts to resolve the conflict, but periodic violence has hurt peace efforts.
For the past three months, Azeri environmentalists have been blockading the Lachin corridor linking Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, saying they oppose mining operations in the region.
Armenia says the protesters are political activists acting at the behest of Azerbaijan’s authorities.
The World Court ordered Azerbaijan last month on Wednesday to ensure free movement through the Lachin corridor.