Karabakh death toll rises before Sarkozy visit
Armenian forces have shot dead two Azerbaijani soldiers near disputed Nagorny Karabakh, Baku said Thursday, hours before the start of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to the troubled Caucasus.
The soldiers were killed near the Karabakh frontline on Wednesday, the defence ministry in Baku said. That same day that Sarkozy gave an interview urging Armenia and Azerbaijan to take more decisive steps towards a peace deal.
"Shooting from the Armenian side killed 20-year-old soldier Novruz Aliyev and 22-year-old serviceman Suleiman Askerov," defence ministry spokesman Teymur Abdullayev told AFP.
The ethnic Armenian separatists who control Karabakh also said that one of their troops had been killed by Azerbaijani forces on Wednesday.
In the interview before his two-day Caucasus visit began, Sarkozy called on both Armenia and Azerbaijan to "take the risk of peace" amid stalled negotiations on the bitter post-Soviet territorial conflict.
"Because there is no greater danger than that of inaction, which gives rise to illusions, fuels resentment, and delays bit by bit the chances of peace every day," Sarkozy told the Armenian news agency Mediamax.
Seventeen soldiers have now been reported killed this year amid regular exchanges of gunfire along the ceasefire line in Karabakh. Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized Karabakh from Azerbaijan in a war in the 1990s that left some 30,000 dead.
Despite years of talks since the 1994 ceasefire, the two sides have still to sign a final peace deal.
Azerbaijan has repeatedly threatened to use force to win back Karabakh if internationally mediated talks fail to yield satisfactory results.
Yerevan has warned of large-scale retaliation if Baku launches any military action.
Sarkozy is scheduled to visit Armenia on Thursday before going on to Azerbaijan and Georgia on Friday.
© 2011 AFP