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    Armenia says officer killed by Azerbaijan sniper, Baku denies

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    Armenia and Azerbaijan have once again traded accusations amid a bilateral conflict over a breakaway region, with Yerevan claiming an Azerbaijani sniper killed an Armenian officer, and Baku denying the allegation.

    BAKU/YEREVAN, February 15 (RIA Novosti) - Armenia and Azerbaijan have once again traded accusations amid a bilateral conflict over a breakaway region, with Yerevan claiming an Azerbaijani sniper killed an Armenian officer, and Baku denying the allegation.

    "A contract serviceman, 49-year-old Major Ervand Pashikyan, was fatally injured at about 9:30 a.m. local time [5:30 a.m. GMT] yesterday by a shot fired by an Azerbaijani sniper at the combat position of the Noembryan military unit," Col. Seiran Shakhsuvaryan, a spokesman for the Armenian Defense Ministry, said referring to the military unit in northeastern Armenia on the border with Azerbaijan. The spokesman said the officer died on the spot from a chest wound.

    The Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan, conversely, said Armenia opened small arms fire at Azerbaijani positions Wednesday morning, which lasted for 20 minutes.

    "The attack was suppressed with return fire, and the Azerbaijani side suffered no loss of life," Ilgar Verdiyev, a ministry spokesman, said, adding it was nonsensical of Armenia "to regularly violate the ceasefire and then blame it on Azerbaijan."

    Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the two South Caucasus nations have been in conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region in Azerbaijan with a largely Armenian population. The dispute first erupted in 1988 when Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence from Azerbaijan and moved to join Armenia.

    Over 30,000 people were killed on both sides between 1988 and 1994, and over 100 died following a 1994 ceasefire. Nagorno-Karabakh remained in Armenian hands, but tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia have persisted. Azerbaijan seems determined to restore its control over the separatist region.

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