Azerbaijani troops on Thursday killed three ethnic-Armenian soldiers from the army of breakaway Nagorny Karabakh, the rebel authorities said as tensions between Baku and Yerevan escalate over the disputed region.
"An Azerbaijani commando unit on Thursday morning attacked Karabakh army positions," Nagorny Karabakh's defense ministry said in a statement.
"Three Karabakh army soldiers ... were killed in action."
The separatists added that the Karabakh soldiers finally drove out the Azerbaijani forces after a battle lasting two hours.
Yerevan and Baku have been locked in a dispute since Yerevan-backed ethnic Armenian separatists seized control of Azerbaijan's Karabakh area in a bloody war in the early 1990s that left some 30,000 dead.
Despite years of negotiations, the two sides have still not signed a final peace deal, while Armenian-populated Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
Karabakh's ethnic-Azeri community -- around a quarter of the population before the war -- was entirely driven out.
Threatening a shaky 1994 truce, clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces intensified again in January following an unprecedented spiral of violence last year.
At least 21 people from both sides have been reported killed this year in sporadic flare-ups on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, and along the Karabakh frontline.
Baku, whose military spending exceeds Armenia's entire state budget, has threatened to take back the territories by force if negotiations fail to yield results.
Armenia, backed militarily by Russia, says it could crush any offensive.
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