Karabakh Reports Azeri Incursion Attempt

(Azatutyun)- Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian-backed military claimed to have thwarted an Azerbaijani commando raid on its frontline positions early on Thursday, the first such incident reported by it in the last seven months.

In a statement, the Defense Army said that shortly after midnight an Azerbaijani “reconnaissance and sabotage group” was spotted by its forces while attempting to attack one of its outposts in Karabakh’s southeastern Martuni district.

“As a result of preventive measures, the Azerbaijani special forces were pushed back,” said the statement. “According to preliminary data, the enemy suffered casualties. Details are being clarified.”

A senior aide to Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president, said no Karabakh Armenian soldiers were killed or wounded as a result. “No other extraordinary incident has occurred since then,” Davit Babayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry was quick to deny the claim, however. According to the APA news agency, it said that Azerbaijani forces observed the ceasefire along the “line of contact” around Karabakh and did not suffer any casualties there overnight.

The authorities in Stepanakert alleged the attempted Azerbaijani attack hours before a small team of officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitored the ceasefire regime at another section of the frontline lying just north of Karabakh. No truce violations were reported from that area.

The longtime head of the OSCE monitoring mission, Andrzej Kasprzyk, also took part in the regular monitoring. Kasprzyk met with Karabakh Armenian leaders in Stepanakert earlier this week.

The Karabakh army had previously reported attempted Azerbaijani incursions in June and February last year. At least five Azerbaijani soldiers were shot dead in front of a Karabakh Armenian position in the Martuni district in February 2017. They were detected by night-vision surveillance devices before crossing the frontline.

Tensions on the frontlines eased considerably in the second half of 2017 amid the resumption of high-level Armenian-Azerbaijani peace negotiations. Foreign Ministers Edward Nalbandian and Elmar Mammadyarov of Azerbaijan held fresh talks in Poland as recently as on January 18. Mammadyarov described them as “positive.”

One of Nalbandian’s deputies, Shavarsh Kocharian, suggested on Thursday that the overnight incident reported by Stepanakert may be connected with the talks. He said Baku is still reluctant to agree to the expansion of Kasprzyk’s team which is strongly advocated by international mediators and Yerevan.