Armenia and Azerbaijan on Thursday blamed each other for an exchange of fire along their restive border, which killed one person and wounded four, days ahead of EU-hosted peace talks.
The leaders of the two countries are due to hold talks in Brussels on Saturday as part of a push to resolve the three-decade territorial dispute between the two neighbors in the Caucasus.
The European Union-hosted meeting comes after the United States said “tangible progress” had been made at talks between foreign ministers in Washington last week aimed at ending the dispute over the enclave of Nagorno Karabakh.
But on Thursday, both sides accused each other of shooting along their border.
“A soldier from the Azerbaijani army was killed after a provocation from the Armenian forces,” Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said, accusing Armenia of having “once again violated the ceasefire agreement” with “large-calibre weapons.”
Armenia said four of its soldiers were wounded in the clashes, which it blamed on Azerbaijan.
“Azerbaijani forces are shooting artillery and mortars at Armenian position in the Sotk region” in the east, Armenia’s defense ministry said.
The incident comes just days before European Council President Charles Michel is to host Armenia’s Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev for talks in Brussels.
The two leaders had also agreed to jointly meet the leaders of France and Germany on the sidelines of a European summit in Moldova on June 1, according to the EU.
-Accord ‘at Preliminary Stage’
Pashinyan on Thursday accused Azerbaijan of looking to “undermine the talks” in Brussels but added that he was still willing to attend.
“I have not changed my mind about going to Brussels,” the Armenia premier told his government.
He added however that there was “very little” chance of signing a peace deal with Azerbaijan at the meeting.
The draft agreement “is still at a very preliminary stage and it is too early to speak of an eventual signature,” Pashinyan said.
Majority-Christian Armenia and Azerbaijan, whose population is mostly Muslim, were both republics of the Soviet Union that gained independence in 1991, when the USSR broke up.
They have gone to war twice over disputed territories, mainly Nagorno Karabakh, a majority-Armenian region inside Azerbaijan.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the two wars over the region, one lasting six years and ending in 1994, and the second in 2020, which ended in a Russia-negotiated ceasefire deal.
But clashes have broken out regularly since then.
The Western mediation efforts to resolve the conflict come as major regional power Russia has struggled to maintain its decisive influence due to the fallout from its war on Ukraine.