BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Azerbaijan and Armenia on Monday both reported more losses in a sharp escalation of fighting over the South Caucasus region Nagorno-Karabakh, with 18 soldiers now confirmed dead.
The Azerbaijani region and some adjacent territory have been under the control of Armenian soldiers and ethnic Armenian local troops since the end of a six-year separatist war in 1994. Both sides report frequent shootings and attempted incursions along the cease-fire line, but the latest outbreak of fighting has been the worst in many years.
Russia, the United States, the European Union and the U.N. secretary-general have all expressed concern and urged both sides to respect the cease-fire.
Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said Monday that 13 soldiers were killed in the fighting that spiked over the weekend, while Nagorno-Karabakh's armed forces said five of its soldiers were killed.
It was not immediately clear what set off the latest violence between the former Soviet republics, with each side accusing the other of being the aggressor.
Armenia's prime minister said the presidents of the two countries were expected to meet at the end of the week in Sochi, Russia, although this has not been confirmed by Azerbaijan. Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan would have separate meetings in Sochi with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged both sides to "refrain from further violence and commit themselves to immediate de-escalation and continuing dialogue in the pursuit of a rapid and peaceful political solution," his spokesman said.
"There can be no military solution to this conflict. Retaliation and further violence will only make it more difficult to bring about a peaceful settlement," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Lavrov said Putin would talk to both presidents about how Russia, the U.S. and France — which lead a longstanding but stalled international peace effort — could help with "strengthening trust and reducing the risks of confrontation," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
Neither side showed much willingness Monday to compromise.
Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said Armenia "bears full responsibility for the evolving dangerous situation" while Armenia's defense minister Seiran Oganian said his country was doing everything possible to lower tensions.
Avet Demourian in Yerevan, Armenia and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.
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