BRUSSELS – The string of recent killings in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict is nothing unusual, EU diplomats in the region say.
Armenia last week accused Azerbaijan of killing four of its soldiers in cross border raids.
Azerbaijan says Armenia killed five of its men in a similar operation. Its media on Monday (11 June) said there is still “intense shooting” from Armenian positions against Azerbaijani targets.
The reports are hard to verify because there are no outside monitors in the 20-year-old war over Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Minsk Group – a body of French, Russian and US diplomats tasked with mediating between Baku and Yerevan – launches investigations from its base in Georgia. But inspectors tend to arrive too late to do the job properly.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton on Friday urged “both sides strictly to respect the ceasefire and exercise restraint on the ground and in public statements.”
She added: “These incidents highlight the importance of [creating] a functioning incident investigation mechanism.”
Her communique indicates fresh EU interest in the conflict – the Union does not usually get involved in order not to interfere with the Minsk Group.
But EU diplomats based in the region said last week’s killings are nothing out of the ordinary.
One contact said: “Year on year, there is always a spike in incidents after the winter months.”
Another source described the reports of ongoing shooting this week by saying: “The situation is normal again on the line of contact.”
He noted that the banality of the incidents does not mean they are not dangerous.
“It just goes to show the conflict is not stable and there is a need to move forward to a peaceful settlement. It’s a reminder of how easily a situation at one point on the border can spread along the whole line,” he said.
The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan are to meet in Paris on 18 June to discuss new – and as yet undisclosed – US peacebuilding ideas.
For his part, Richard Giragosian, a Yerevan-based US analyst who used to advise the Pentagon and the CIA, believes that Azerbaijan sees 2014 as a deadline for the peace process.
“Azerbaijan is following a new military strategy based on a build-up of [arms] procurement and preparations for ‘attaining operational readiness’ by 2014 – i.e. threatening war by the 20th anniversary of the ceasefire if there is no progress in the … peace process,” he said in a note sent to diplomats and press on Saturday.